US officials: UAE withdrew from air war after Jordanian pilot captured

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) withdrew from air strike missions against Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria after the capture of a Jordanian pilot, who has since been murdered by the jihadists, US officials say.

The UAE pulled out of the flights soon after the pilot was taken hostage in December, a US official said.

“I can confirm that UAE suspended air strikes shortly after the Jordanian pilot’s plane went down,” the official said, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“But let me be clear that UAE continues to be an important and valuable partner that is contributing to the coalition.”

The UAE provides access to important air bases for American aircraft and provides other support for the coalition effort, the official said.

IS posted a grisly video on Tuesday showing the Jordanian pilot, Maaz al-Kassasbeh, being burned alive.

Fearing for the safety of its air crews, the UAE raised concerns with Washington about its search-and-rescue resources in the region, officials have said.

UAE representatives proposed that American forces deploy V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft to northern Iraq to be closer to any planes that go down, instead of in Kuwait.

The UAE has indicated that the suspension of its participation in the air campaign would continue until the Osprey aircraft were moved to northern Iraq.

The Ospreys are considered useful for rescue missions as they can take off like helicopters but fly with the speed of a plane.

First Lieutenant Kassasbeh was reportedly seized by IS jihadists within minutes of his jet crashing near Raqqa, Syria.

But UAE officials questioned whether US rescue teams would have been able to reach the pilot even if there had been more time, administration officials told the New York Times.

UAE foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, asked US ambassador Barbara Leaf why the United States had not put more resources in northern Iraq for rescuing downed pilots, a senior administration official said.

But a US defence official said that American pilots face the same risks as coalition pilots from the UAE or elsewhere.

“When American pilots fly over enemy territory, they know there are risks involved, but they also know they are backed by an unswerving commitment to recover them if they go down,” the defence official said.

“There is no risk coalition airmen are taking that American airmen don’t share. We do not discuss specifics on the locations of personnel recovery forces or the procedures they follow.”

As for stationing aircraft in northern Iraq instead of Kuwait, the official said: “There are considerations other than flying distance associated with where we bed down aircraft, including the personnel and logistics needed to sustain operations.”