Allen B. West

Tragic mistake: Jordanian pilot burned by ISIS was shot down by friendly fire

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Y’all remember the female fighter pilot from the UAE who everyone was cheering as she took off in her fighter jet to run strikes against ISIS? She became an overnight sensation and symbolic of a perceived triumph of Islamic moderation and advancement. Anyone notice how quick it was that she disappeared? I mean she didn’t even have 15 minutes of fame — more like three. Maybe this is the reason we didn’t hear too much more about this young woman.

As reported by the Washington Free Beacon, “The Jordanian fighter pilot burned to death by Islamic State militants in Syria two months ago was not shot down by anti-aircraft fire, Yediot Achronot reported Sunday, but by a missile mistakenly fired by United Arab Emirates warplanes flying cover.

“Commanding the UAE flight was the first and only female combat pilot, Major Mariam al-Mansouri, who was grounded after the incident. Smadar Peri, an Israeli reporter with extensive contacts in Jordan, attributed the story to Safi al-Kasabeh, father of the downed pilot, Moaz al-Kasabeh. A day after being briefed on the incident by the Jordanian chief of staff, she wrote, the father told local reporters, “Moaz was downed by friendly fire.”

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The father noted that the four Jordanian F-16s participating in the attack on Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital in northern Syria, were part of a formation that included UAE warplanes, and that Maj. Mansouri was in overall command.”

Now I can tell you that coordinating an attack with a unit to your flank from a different parent organization on the ground is difficult — hence why you conduct rehearsals; map, radio, or actual. During Operation Desert Storm there were Arab nation units part of the combined military operation and the level of coordination and synchronization was high – it had to be.

Now, I was not intellectually astute enough — along with color blindness and bad eyesight — to fly airplanes, but was well equipped to jump out of them, AIRBORNE! So I cannot attest to what happens in the air — maybe some current and former combat fighter pilots can provide us their comments — but again, combined air operations between differing nations is not an easy task.

It does require ATO (Air Tasking Order) coordination in the planning stage and detailed synchronization in the air. I don’t suppose we will know how many strikes this package had flown together — or the level of pre-operation checks and rehearsals. I must admit, I did find perplexing the initial report that the Jordanian pilot was shot down by anti-aircraft fire.

During Operation Desert Storm I had a first hand view of what happened in a friendly fire incident involving our First Infantry Division Apache helicopter battalion commander. Instead of maintaining a command and control posture, the commander engaged what he thought were two Iraqi armored vehicles — they were actually a friendly intel gathering team in an M113 Armored Personnel Carrier and a M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle. The fog of war is an unforgiving bastard at times — and so it was on that fateful night for five American Soldiers of our division.

Unfortunately it seems Jordanian fighter pilot Moaz al-Kasabeh was a victim of the same fog.

According to the Beacon, “Major Mansouri ordered his son to conduct a low-level attack, said the father. The target, he said, was a location where Islamic State’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was believed to be hiding. “He executed the order … and then was hit by friendly fire from the Emirate planes,” said al-Kasabeh. Maj. Mansouri was grounded immediately after the mission and the UAE announced that it would no longer participate in coalition air action. After a month-long hiatus, UAE planes resumed combat operations, operating out of a Jordanian air base. There was no report on whether or not Maj. Al-Mansouri was still grounded. The 35-year-old pilot had been an English literature major until Emirate Air Force training was opened to women. She graduated as a fighter pilot in 2008. She has reportedly led a number of strikes against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.”

So finally, after some three months we now know the reason why the UAE terminated its participation in coalition air strikes. However, as the Free Beacon reports, “A senior Jordanian intelligence officer told the reporter that the Jordanian pilot had parachuted safely to ground, doffed his pilot’s overalls and headed for the nearby Euphrates River, which he intended to swim across. “He was alone on the ground for a critical 40-50 minutes,” said the officer. “That was sufficient time to try to rescue him.” He said that if an American plane had been downed in similar circumstances, “they would have created a field of fire a mile in diameter to prevent any one getting close until the pilot was rescued.” Al-Kasabeh managed to reach the river’s edge before being seized. “Neither the Americans or us were prepared for this scenario,” said the Jordanian officer.

To his credit Moaz’s father, the elder al-Kasabeh issued a statement that he was not blaming any specific air force or any specific pilot for shooting down his son’s plane, “but I know with certainty that Moaz was not brought down by the Islamic State.”

Having been in combat, I don’t blame UAE fighter pilot Major Mansouri — and of course there will be those claiming that this all happened because she was a female — I don’t buy that, much worse happened to LTC Ralph Hayles. What I do blame is the lack of a proper ATO being done that had allocated CSAR (Combat Search and Rescue) assets to cover this strike operation. Such assets could have been prepositioned in Kurdistan in Irbil and at Kirkuk AB. If anything, there should have been immediate combat air support by way of attack helicopters that could have been on strip alert and launched to cordon off the area where young Moaz went down.

I have listened to the rhetoric of how America is leading an air coalition effort. Well, it seems to be that a lack of ATO planning resulted in the horrific death of a young Jordanian pilot watched by the entire world.

Sadly, under this current administration, four Americans were abandoned to die in Benghazi…and it appears this young combat fighter pilot was abandoned to die. Imagine the terror he must have felt when realizing NO ONE was coming to his rescue.

You see, when you develop a strike package, you account for all risks and plan mitigation measures to reduce those risks. Where was the CSAR? Why was there no contingency plan for a downed pilot? After all, this is the operation we are “supposedly” leading.

Then again, there are those who will echo these famous words, “what difference at this point does it make?” It makes a huge difference because there will be an empty chair at the al-Kasabeh family dinner table — and that chair did not have to be empty. Major Mansouri will be haunted the rest of her life as she watched a member of her strike package shot down and saw the ejection parachute.

But there is a greater shame upon the person who made the decision to do nothing to rescue Jordanian combat fighter pilot Moaz al-Kasabeh.

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