With A Son Missing, Family Questions Jordan’s Mission Against ISIS

January 8, 2015

In Jordan, the talk these days centers on the fate of the Jordanian pilot who was captured by the self-styled Islamic State after his plane crashed in Syria on Christmas Eve.

Little is known about the condition of Moath al-Kasasbeh since the extremists tweeted pictures of him, bloody and bewildered, after the crash.

Jordan is the rare Middle Eastern country accustomed to stability and peace and its involvement in the Syrian war has left many uncomfortable.

Radio hosts pledge their support and wish that he comes safely home.

That home is nestled in hilly, tribal heartland two hours south of the capital, Amman.

On a bleak, windy day with snow flurrying around the olive trees, the pilot’s parents welcome me in the mountain village of Aie.

His father, Safi, is a sheikh of the Kasasbeh tribe and a retired education professor. His mother, Saafia, is a retired teacher. Their elegant parlor is stiff, and formal and it’s so cold we all keep our coats as they tell me about their son

“Of course, I am proud of my son for being a member of the Royal Jordanian Air Force,” Saafia says. “But I am very pained about the incident.”

Jordan has long been a friend to the United States and is a key Arab ally in the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS. Yet many in this Middle Eastern kingdom share her feelings, as well as the family’s statements questioning the mission in Syria.

The 26-year-old pilot was married five months ago. A devout Muslim, he made the pilgrimage with his parents to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. News of the downed plane came like a thunderbolt, says his father.

“I was very, very panicked and very, very sad,” he says. “I was on the verge of a breakdown.”

And he wasn’t just shocked, but angry.

“I am proud that my sons are serving in the armed forces in order to defend the homeland, but only to defend the homeland,” he says.

Safi Kasasbeh says there’s no way his son should have been bombing Syria in the first place. Jordan has a long-standing relationship with the U.S. and its economy depends on American aid. So, he reckons, that’s why Jordan is in the coalition. But he says he hated the decision from the outset.

“I wasn’t OK with it at all. And all Jordanians strongly condemn our participation in the coalition,” he says.

A big part of his problem is that the airstrikes are striking Sunni Muslims like them. These people are our sons, our brothers, he says.

“Our army is for defending Jordan,” he says. “It’s not supposed to spread throughout the world like American forces.”

Back in the Jordanian capital, Amman, I meet the pilot’s brother Jawad.

He was also in the Jordanian air force and served in the American-led coalition in Afghanistan where, he says, he too was confused about why Jordan was battling fellow Muslims.

He and the other relatives speak carefully: They know the people holding Moath could be hearing them. They don’t even know if he’s still alive.

But analysts say these doubts — coming so publicly from loyalists to King Abdullah and the armed forces — present a problem for the monarch as he tries to satisfy internal opinion and the U.S.

And that problem will get much bigger if ISIS fulfills its threats to kill the pilot.

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