WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates has withdrawn from flying air strikes in the US-led international coalition campaign against Islamic State fighters, who are occupying parts of Iraq and Syria, US officials said on Wednesday.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the UAE had suspended its participation in the air campaign because of concern for pilots’ safety after a Jordanian Air Force plane went down over Syria on Dec. 24.
The pilot, First Lieutenant Muath al-Kasasbeh, was captured by Islamic State militants and later killed. Video images circulated on Tuesday showed him being doused with flammable liquid and burned to death.
“I can confirm that UAE suspended air strikes shortly after the Jordanian pilot’s plane went down, but let me be clear that UAE continues to be an important and valuable partner that is contributing to the coalition,” one official said.
A senior US defense official said the UAE wanted the Pentagon to establish better search-and-rescue capability in northern Iraq close to the battlefield, including tilt-rotor V-22 Osprey aircraft that can take off like helicopters, before resuming air strikes.
The United States has said the coalition includes more than 60 countries, carrying out various tasks, including military attacks, humanitarian support, propaganda and cracking down on Islamic State’s finances.
Along with the United States, Washington says Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan and Bahrain have also participated in or supported air strikes in Syria. Australia, Britain, Canada and France have joined US operations against Islamic State targets in Iraq.
President Barack Obama has sought to attract a broad coalition, drawing on as many regional countries as possible, to avoid the appearance that the campaign is just an endeavour involving outside powers.
The US government has not acknowledged that the UAE has withdrawn from the flights. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a regular briefing on Wednesday: “We are not going to confirm any reports about other countries and their military operations.”