US: Key Arab ally no longer flying airstrikes over Syria
Feb. 04, 2015
WASHINGTON (AP) — The United Arab Emirates, an important part of the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State militants, stopped flying combat missions over Syria late last year after a Jordanian pilot was captured, two U.S. officials said Wednesday.
The UAE dropped out of the group of countries conducting airstrikes against IS targets in Syria in December but has remained involved in noncombat roles, the officials said. They spoke only on condition of anonymity because the move has not been announced and they were not authorized to speak on the record.
Even after the UAE stopped flying the missions, the U.S. military has continued to suggest otherwise in its daily news releases about the air campaign. Each day it has stated, "Coalition nations conducting airstrikes in Syria include the U.S., Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates."
Asked about the UAE's current role, a spokesman at the U.S. Central Command, Maj. Brian Fickel, said, "We defer questions on coalition nation participation to those countries."
The New York Times was first to report the UAE's decision to stop conducting airstrikes.
The Times reported that in suspending airstrikes again the Islamic State, the UAE cited fears for its pilots' safety after a Jordanian pilot was captured in December. A video this week purported to show the pilot, Lt. Muath Al-Kaseasbeh, being burned to death by his Islamic State captors.
U.S. officials have said that every effort was made to recover the Jordanian pilot in coordination with the Jordanian military. They have said that as soon as his plane went down, an intensive airborne search was initiated, but it was not possible to locate the pilot before he was picked up by IS fighters.
Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor and Bradley Klapper contributed to this report.