In this case, as Jordanian airmen carry out Operation Martyr Muath in the certain knowledge that to be shot down is, despite the miracle of the ACES II ejection seat, certain death, we may ask, “What can the US do? What should the US do? And what will the US do?”‘
The Jordanians don’t need us flying alongside their pilots (although they’d be welcome). They don’t need our precision-guided munitions — they know where the Syrians of Raqqa that are not on board with Daesh are, because they’re in refugee camps in Jordan by the millions. Collateral damage is not a concern of the King’s men.
They are fighting Muath’s fight, and — some of you will not like to hear this, but it is true — Muath’s fight is our fight.
Combat Search And Rescue/Personnel Recovery
One lesson learned comes from the fate of Muath himself. Forced to abandon his F-16 over Raqqa on Christmas Eve, he ejected without difficulty and descended into a pond. He was set upon by Daesh thugs, stripped naked, and beaten. There are photographs of this, unfortunately. The best chance to save him had come and gone.
The United States has more experience in Combat Search & Rescue than any other nation on earth, and we have retained some of the doctrine and TTPs that made what was then the Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service so incredibly effective over Vietnam. Indeed, we’ve plucked at least one F-15 pilot from jihadi territory (thanks to the V-22 and Marine special operators).
There are three main mechanisms of personnel recovery from denied areas. The first is an ad hoc or hasty recovery which uses local forces. Its advantages are speed and surprise. The second is deliberate recovery which uses dedicated assets — special operations aviation, aircraft than are designed to penetrate defended airspace, planning and support. The third is clandestine, assisted evasion and recovery — transporting an evader through a chain of secret ratlines from the denied area to home. Each of these responsibilities falls on different shoulders in the American doctrinal construct, but only the US has the capability and experience to really pull the second kind — the kind that might even have saved Muath — off.
Jordan is, in the grand scheme of things, a poor country. They can’t dedicate the assets to such a peripheral function. And that’s one place where we can help. We should be providing CSAR assets — the whole package, from the Sandy A-10s to the Jolly copters and the planning cell to integrate them — because Muath’s fight is our fight.
The third kind of recovery, clandestine escape and evasion, requires much the same effort as building a HUMINT network, but paradoxically has to be kept separate and insulated from the HUMINT net. It cannot be a short-time goal, but we ought to have the ISIL command structure’s wiring so compromised that we can play it like a slot machine — with us holding the house’s odds.
In addition to these sorts of personnel recovery, there are also hostage rescue operations. The HR aspect of personnel recovery requires specialized forces, which the Jordanians do have, and actionable intelligence, which has been lacking. This is a field in which the US and Jordan can fruitfully work together.
Other Possible Responses
That’s not all we can do, of course. We should expedite any requests they have of us. We should throw open our ammo dumps and arsenals — if their leader has the stones to do what our leader has not got the stones to do, namely, bomb our mutual enemies back to the Stone Age, the least we can do for him is pick up the tab for his Neolithization of enemy-held Syria and Iraq.
It goes without saying that our tactical intelligence should be shared. Little of that exposes sources and methods that would compromise American intelligence gathering.