ISIS dares Jordan to avenge pilot’s murder

The inferno that engulfed captured Jordanian pilot Lt. Moaz al-Kasasbeh is a flaming salvo at the heart of Amman

Dr. Theodore Karasik
Dr. Theodore Karasik
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The inferno that engulfed captured Jordanian pilot Lt. Moaz al-Kasasbeh is a flaming salvo at the heart of Amman. The fact that ISIS claims al-Kasasbeh had actually suffered his awful fate a month ago adds extra misery and insult given the efforts of his tribe and the Jordanian government to garner his release in exchange for extremist affiliated Sajida al-Rishawi. Now that al-Rishawi and several others have been executed in response, this terrible event raises a number of key points for the immediate future.

First, Lt. al-Kasasbeh was captured in December when his F-16 fighter crashed over northern Syria while on a mission with the U.S.-led air coalition. An Arab official told me in mid-December that a coalition air control commander ordered Lt. al-Kasasbeh to fly his jet low over the area where he was shot down in order to “test” ISIS’ air defense. Later, the coalition air control commander said that there was a miscommunication. The result, of course, was catastrophic, with Lt. al-Kasasbeh’s capture. Immediately, questions were raised if the coalition air campaign augmented by other Arab states would continue. Fearful of the potential capture of other Arab pilots, these member states adjusted their rules of engagement and some states stopped flying sorties. Now with Lt. al-Kasasbeh’s death, Operation Inherent Resolve will face additional political pressures.

Any Jordanian military operation on the ground will be fierce and well-armed, and now more highly motivated than ever before

Dr. Theodore Karasik

Second, ISIS knows exactly how the slick 20-plus minute video of Lt. al-Kasasbeh’s death would play in the Dabiq Epic. The Dabiq Epic is in reference to ISIS’ apocalyptic story and vision of drawing in the crusaders for the final battle to be centered in the Syrian town of the same name. Given that ISIS sees Jordan as the frontline of the Crusader’s border with the use of Jordanian territory for airstrikes on the so-called Islamic State, ISIS now, from their point of view, want the Jordanian armed forces to strike them. ISIS is arguing that Jordan is a crusader state. In the wake of the official announcement of Lt. al-Kasasbeh’s death, ISIS published the names of Jordanian pilots and asked its operatives to hunt these pilots down “for a gold prize.” It is as if a bully is picking a fight on a playground: it’s a sick joke that will backfire on ISIS.

The tribal equation

Third is the tribal equation. Lt. al-Kasasbeh hailed from the Barasheh tribe in southern Jordan. The Barasheh tribe is part of the backbone, if you will, of the Jordanian monarchy especially the Jordanian armed forces. As the crisis over Lt. al-Kasasbeh unfolded, tribal elders tried to negotiate with ISIS for his release in a prisoner swap noted above. But the discussions were all a folly. ISIS used the Jordanian tribes similar to how they have abused Iraqi tribes. This fact makes matters worse because the Barsasheh tribe now will want revenge, and rightfully so. What comes next is very likely what has been discussed privately: A Jordanian military operation against ISIS in Syrian territory. Clearly, Lt. al-Kasasbeh’s martyrdom status is likely to launch exactly what ISIS wants from the Hashemite Kingdom. Jordan’s military and special operation forces, who are made up of key tribes, are likely to be unleashed to track down and eliminate ISIS on Syrian territory.

Any Jordanian military operation on the ground will be fierce and well-armed, and now, more highly motivated than ever before. As I noted in a column last year, 10,000-12,000 SOF will be used hunt down Lt. al-Kasasbeh’s killers and their associates. Jordan may well be “the tip of the spear” for a ground campaign by other coalition partners. As we know, Amman’s SOF is world renowned with almost 30,000 SOF warriors augmented with enhanced training at the King Abdullah Special Operations Training Center (KASOTC). Force 71 will be used as well and their furiousness is legendary. Also possibly coming into play will be Jordan’s counter-terrorism and intelligence relationship with Chechnya and Russia who also have a vested interest in tearing apart ISIS. Of course, any Jordanian ground operation will be augmented by the Hashemite Kingdom’s own air force with coalition assistance. Indeed, this event, if it comes to fruition, may be the final battle for ISIS in Syria.

Overall, we may have just turned a corner in the battle against ISIS. ISIS is continuing its push south using hybrid warfare to achieve its goals through grizzly executions and social media warfare. The terrorist proto-state has supporters popping up in a number of key states who are part of the coalition. In this particular case, ISIS seeks to antagonize Jordan into rushing into battle on the ground where the extremist group will fight in all their deviant glory. But ISIS is playing with fire: it is now engaging a state actor with well-trained soldiers who will have blood lust. They are all Lt. al-Kasasbeh.


Dr. Theodore Karasik is a Senior Advisor to Risk Insurance Management in Dubai, UAE. He received his Ph.D in History from UCLA in Los Angeles, California in four fields: Middle East, Russia, Caucasus, and a specialized sub-field in Cultural Anthropology focusing on tribes and clans. He tweets: @tkarasik

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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