DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The United Arab Emirates launched airstrikes Tuesday against the Islamic State group from an air base in Jordan, marking its return to combat operations against the militants after it halted flights late last year.
The General Command of the UAE Armed Forces said Emirati F-16s carried out a series of strikes Tuesday morning, according to a brief statement carried by the Gulf nation’s official WAM news agency.
The fighters returned safely back to base after striking their targets, the statement said. It did not elaborate, nor did it say whether the strikes happened in Syria or Iraq. The militants hold roughly a third of each country in a self-declared caliphate.
The Emirates, an oil-rich federation that includes Abu Dhabi and Dubai, is one of the most prominent Arab members of the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group.
American officials say the country halted airstrikes in December after a Jordanian pilot, Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh, was captured when his plane crashed behind enemy lines. Al-Kaseasbeh was later burned alive by the militants.
The Emirates had not commented on the suspension, and Tuesday’s statement was the first confirmation it had restarted combat operations. It has continued to provide logistical support to the campaign by hosting coalition warplanes at its air bases on the southern rim of the Persian Gulf.
Its return to the fight came days after it ordered the deployment of a squadron of F-16s to Jordan, a close ally of both the United States and the Emirates that has pledged harsh retaliation for the gruesome killing of its pilot.
Previous Emirati airstrikes had been in Syria, making that the most likely site of its latest targets.
American defense officials last week said they moved search-and-rescue aircraft closer to the battlefield, helping ease allies’ concerns about the coalition’s ability to aid downed aircrews.
The Emirati announcement came as Syria’s President Bashar Assad said in comments published Tuesday that his government has been receiving general messages from the American military about airstrikes targeting the Islamic State group inside Syria but that there is no direct cooperation.
In an interview with the BBC, Assad said the messages are conveyed through third parties, such as Iraq.
“Sometimes they convey message, general message, but there’s nothing tactical,” he said.
American and allied Arab planes have been conducting airstrikes in Syria as part of an international campaign against Islamic State extremists. They share the skies with Assad’s air force, which also targets the militants.
Syrian officials have maintained that they have not been consulted about the airstrikes since they started in September — only informed through third parties in the beginning.
In the interview, Assad also denied his forces have used barrel bombs. The government’s use of the crude explosive devices, usually dropped by helicopters, has been widely documented by international human rights organizations and residents of opposition-held areas in Syria. The barrel bombs, which cannot be precisely targeted, have killed thousands of civilians, according to Syrian activists.
“I know about the army, they use bullets, missiles, and bombs. I haven’t heard of the army using barrels, or maybe, cooking pots,” Assad said, apparently making light of the allegations.
Pressed again about their use, he replied: “They’re called bombs. … There are no barrel bombs; we don’t have barrels.”
Associated Press writer Zeina Karam in Beirut contributed to this report.