US moves pilot-rescue teams closer as Coalition steps up war against IS

Updated 06 February 2015
0

US moves pilot-rescue teams closer as Coalition steps up war against IS

WASHINGTON: The gruesome killing of a Jordanian pilot who had crashed in Islamic State territory laid bare a problem of the US-led coalition — there is no sure way to rescue an airman who is down behind enemy lines. Now, in response, the US has moved search-and-rescue aircraft closer to the battlefield, defense officials said Thursday.
US pilots are flying missions over Syria daily from bases in the region, including from Qatar, and partner nations, including Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, are flying less often. The United Arab Emirates suspended its participation in airstrikes in December after the Jordanian pilot was captured, but it may reconsider after having given its aircrews extra training, two officials said.
The risk of capture is unavoidable in air combat missions anywhere. The danger is arguably greater for pilots flying over Syria with no US troops nearby, even though the Islamic State has a very limited ability to shoot down planes.
The importance of finding the pilot before he is captured was highlighted by the video showing Islamic State militants burning Jordanian Lt. Muath Al-Kaseasbeh alive in a cage.
The US has flown nearly 900 combat missions over Iraq since last August and more than 900 over Syria since September — not to mention hundreds of reconnaissance and other support missions — without a single loss. Coalition pilots have flown more than 350 airstrike missions over Iraq and 80 or more over Syria, with Al-Kaseasbeh the only casualty so far.
Nonetheless, three defense officials said that in recent days the US has moved search-and-rescue aircraft into northern Iraq to shorten the response time in the event of another pilot loss. Al-Kaseasbeh’s plane went down in December and he was quickly captured by Islamic State fighters before US rescue crews could reach him.
The three officials spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record about a movement of rescue crews that has not been announced.
“It’s standard practice whenever US aircraft are flying over enemy airspace that there’s a search-and-rescue package ready to go,” said Peter Mansoor, a retired Army colonel who served in the Iraq war. But success is hardly sure, particularly when an enemy ground force can quickly grab the pilot.
That was the case with Al-Kaseasbeh, whose F-16 crashed over Syria in December. He parachuted into a lake and was quickly captured, taken to an unknown location and held until he was killed on Jan. 3. US officials have said an airborne search was launched after the pilot went down, but he stood no chance of evading capture.
“Given that we now know that captured pilots are likely to be tortured and killed, we’ve taken another look at our search-and-rescue package and probably ramped it up and gotten it closer to the scene of potential action,” Mansoor said in a telephone interview.
Combat missions also are being flown daily over portions of Iraq, mainly in the north and west. The majority are flown by American pilots, though France, Belgium, Britain, the Netherlands, Australia, Canada and Denmark also are flying missions.
On Thursday the US military said in its daily report on airstrikes that coalition planes conducted three strikes in Syria overnight Wednesday and nine in Iraq.
The US typically keeps a tight lid on its combat search-and-rescue capabilities in war zones. The missions usually are led by the Air Force’s pararescue jumpers, or PJs, who undergo specialized training to be able to find, rescue and provide medical treatment to aircrew members who go down behind enemy lines or at sea.
___
Associated Press writers Julie Pace, Lolita C. Baldor and Bradley Klapper contributed to this report.


Truckloads of civilians leave Daesh enclave in Syria

Updated 22 February 2019
0

Truckloads of civilians leave Daesh enclave in Syria

  • The village is all that remains for Daesh in the Euphrates valley region that became its final populated stronghold in Iraq and Syria
  • The SDF has steadily driven the militants down the Euphrates after capturing their Syrian capital

NEAR BAGHOU: Trucks loaded with civilians left the last Daesh enclave in eastern Syria on Friday, as US-backed forces waited to inflict final defeat on the surrounded militants.
Reporters near the front line at Baghouz saw dozens of trucks driving out with civilians inside them, but it was not clear if more remained in the tiny pocket.
The village is all that remains for Daesh in the Euphrates valley region that became its final populated stronghold in Iraq and Syria after it lost the major cities of Mosul and Raqqa in 2017.
The SDF has steadily driven the militants down the Euphrates after capturing their Syrian capital, Raqqa, in 2017, but does not want to mount a final attack until all civilians are out.
The US-led coalition which supports the SDF has said Islamic State’s “most hardened fighters” remain holed up in Baghouz, close to the Iraqi frontier.
Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF’s media office, earlier told Reuters that more than 3,000 civilians were estimated to still be inside Baghouz and there would be an attempt to evacuate them on Friday.
“If we succeed in evacuating all the civilians, at any moment we will take the decision to storm Baghouz or force the terrorists to surrender,” he said.
Though the fall of Baghouz marks a milestone in the campaign against Islamic State and the wider conflict in Syria, the militant group is still seen as a major security threat.
It has steadily turned to guerrilla warfare and still holds territory in a remote, sparsely populated area west of the Euphrates River — a part of Syria otherwise controlled by the Syrian government and its Russian and Iranian allies.
The United States will leave “a small peacekeeping group” of 200 American troops in Syria for a period of time after a US pullout, the White House said on Thursday, as President Donald Trump pulled back from a complete withdrawal.
Trump in December ordered a withdrawal of the 2,000 troops, saying they had defeated Daesh militants in Syria.

Related