Qatari pilots were assigned to patrol Syrian airspace in search of potential airborne threats while other Arab nations were dropping bombs on Islamic State targets Monday, according to senior Pentagon officials.
Military planes from Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates dropped bombs on Islamic State structures and supporters, Pentagon officials said. Qatar was the only Arab country involved in the mission that did not participate in the large scale, U.S.-led bombing campaign because it had been asked to keep an eye out for potential Syrian fighter jets, according to Pentagon officials.
“They were armed, but they just didn’t bomb things,” one Pentagon official said. “The Qataris conducted combat air patrol. It means they flew around looking for enemy aircraft. In this case, Syrian aircraft.”
The Arab partner nations did not start dropping their bombs until after the U.S. military had launched cruise missiles at eastern and northern Syria, according to Joint Chiefs of Staff Director of Operations Lt. Gen. William Mayville. That first wave of missiles came from two combat ships floating in the nearby international waters, Lt. Gen. Mayville said Tuesday.
Most of the Arab countries participating in the multinational counterterrorism mission have remained mum on the level of their commitment to the operation.
The Jordanian Armed Forces said in a statement Tuesday that it decided to join the attack on Islamic State militants in Syria after repeated requests for Damascus to control the flow of fighters roaming back and forth across its borders went ignored.
“Unfortunately, border violations have increased significantly over the past two months, forcing the armed forces to implement air strikes on a number of sites controlled by some of the terrorist groups as launch pads for their operations against Jordanian territory,” the statement said.
Pentagon officials say that the current campaign in Syria may persist over the next couple of days. Lt. Gen. Mayville indicated that the airstrikes against Islamic State infrastructure and supporters in Syria could even continue into future years.