WASHINGTON – The United States has sent search and rescue assets to northern Iraq in recent days, bolstering its ability to recover coalition personnel in the U.S.-led air campaign against Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria, U.S. officials said on Thursday.
The deployments follow a decision by the United Arab Emirates to suspend its participation in coalition airstrikes in December over pilot safety concerns after a Jordanian pilot was captured by the group in Syria. He was later executed.
The United Arab Emirates had called on the United States to establish better search-and-rescue capability.
A source familiar with the views of governments in the region said the Emirates were keen on re-engaging in combat operations against Islamic State and likely to resume flights once an enhanced rescue capability is operational.
The source added that other members of the anti-Islamic State coalition, including Australia and Saudi Arabia, have continued to fly combat missions from al Dhafra, a large air base near the city of Abu Dhabi where U.S. forces are also based. The source, and U.S. officials, said that despite their suspension of combat flights, the Emirates remain deeply engaged in supporting the coalition.
U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said U.S. personnel and aircraft were moved to the area around the northern Iraqi city of Irbil to bolster combat search and rescue capabilities. One official said helicopters were sent.
A second official said the search and rescue assets had been moved from Kuwait and would soon become operational.
Jordanian fighter jets pounded Islamic State hideouts in Syria on Thursday, in a show of force two days after the Islamic State released a video showing captured 26-year-old Jordanian pilot Mu’ath al-Kasaesbeh being burned alive in a cage.
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