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Jordan steps up attacks on Islamic State targets

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Posted at 8:52 AM, Feb 09, 2015
and last updated 2015-02-09 14:58:26-05

Jordanian fighter planes have destroyed dozens of targets in a stepped-up bombardment against Islamic State positions in response to the killing of a captive Jordanian pilot, the nation's air force commander said Sunday.

"We are determined to wipe out this terrorist organization," Royal Jordanian Air Force Maj. Gen. Mansour Jboor said in Amman, the Jordanian capital.

Jordan is part of the U.S.-led coalition that has been bombing Islamic State positions in Syria almost daily since September.

U.S. aircraft account for more than 80 percent of the more than 2,000 airstrikes in Syria and Iraq conducted as part of the campaign against the Islamic State group, according to the Pentagon.

But U.S. officials view the presence of the participating Arab monarchies _ including Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates — as a crucial sign that the operation has regional support. U.S. military air crews help coordinate the attacks.

Jordan says it has accelerated attacks in recent days, after the militant group's slaying of a Jordanian pilot, Lt. Moaz Kasasbeh. He was captured in December when his F-16 fighter went down over northern Syria. Militants burned the captive pilot alive in a gruesome scene that infuriated Jordan and outraged much of the world when video of the killing was posted on the Internet.

The kingdom vowed swift retribution. Jordan's Interior Minister, Hussein Majali, has called the pilot's grisly killing a "turning point" in the nation's battle against the extremists.

The recent Jordanian strikes were intended to "avenge our airman," the air force chief said. State television has shown video footage of what it said were Jordanian aircraft bombing Islamic State installations.
Among the 56 targets hit between Thursday and Saturday, the general said, were militant weapons depots, training centers, logistics sites and oil infrastructure.

The kingdom plans to maintain its intensified pace of bombing runs in coming days, the general said, though some experts have questioned how long Jordan's relatively small fleet of fighters can maintain the pace. The United Arab Emirates said it was sending an F-16 squadron to Jordan to bolster the campaign.

In his comments Sunday, the general did not specify where Jordan has bombed in recent days. But one area known to have been targeted is the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, a stronghold of Islamic State.

The militant group said a Jordanian bombardment on Friday outside Raqqa killed a U.S. hostage, Kayla Mueller, an aid worker from Arizona who was abducted by militants 18 months ago in Syria. Islamic State offered no public proof that the woman was dead.

Jordanian and U.S. officials have reacted skeptically to the assertion that the American was killed in the bombing, calling the claim an effort to drive a wedge between the two close allies.

Coalition air strikes have killed 7,000 extremist "criminals" since the campaign began, and trimmed 20 percent of the militants' fighting ability, the Jordanian general said.

The Pentagon has repeatedly said that there's no proof of any civilian casualties from the bombing campaign, though a number of incidents were under investigation. Militants and activists have alleged numerous civilian casualties in the attacks.

President Barack Obama has vowed to "degrade and ultimately destroy" Islamic State, an al-Qaida breakaway faction that has declared a "caliphate" across much of Syria and neighboring Iraq. Both the Syrian and Iraqi governments and allied forces are also fighting ground and air campaigns against Islamic State.

The extremist group has suffered a series of battlefield setbacks but still controls considerable territory and remains a formidable force, with considerable popular support in some areas, analysts say.

Bulos is a special correspondent. Times staff writer William Hennigan in Washington contributed to this report.