Meanwhile, a squadron of F-16 fighter jets from the United Arab Emirates arrived in Jordan. The UAE has said it is sending the warplanes to support the kingdom, and a Jordanian government official has said they would participate in airstrikes on ISIS targets.
Jordanian officials vowed to harshly retaliate for the slaying of the pilot, Lt. Muath al-Kasasbeh, who was set ablaze while trapped in a cage. Kassasbeh was captured in December when his F-16 warplane went down in Syria.
Air force chief Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Jobour told reporters the kingdom had launched 56 air raids on ISIS since Thursday. “On the first day of the campaign to avenge our airman Lt. Moaz al-Kassasbeh, 19 targets were destroyed, including training camps and equipment,” he said, reading from a prepared text.
Eighteen more targets including ammunition and fuel depots and logistics centers were hit Friday.
Nineteen ISIS targets were destroyed Saturday, including barracks and residential centers.
“So far the campaign has destroyed 20 percent of the fighting capabilities of ISIS,” Jobour said.
“We achieved what we were looking for: revenge for Muath,” he added. “And this is not the end. This is the beginning.”
State media reported that a squadron of UAE F-16 fighter jets arrived in Jordan escorted by pilots and technicians, days after the Gulf state reportedly reversed its decision to pull out of the coalition following the capture of the Jordanian pilot.
C-17 transporters and refueling planes were part of the squadron sent to Jordan on the orders of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the Petra news agency said.
The UAE, which hosts air bases used by American and coalition partners, has not commented on suspending its strikes.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said the aerial campaign on ISIS in Iraq and Syria was beginning to win back territory seized by the jihadis and deprive the group of key funds. Speaking in Munich, Kerry said the air war has helped retake 700 square kms of territory, or “one-fifth of the area” previously controlled by ISIS. He did not say whether the regained territory was in Iraq or Syria.
Jordan’s Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said that while the bombing campaign had “degraded” ISIS capability, the group was still in control of vast territory and resources.
“They still have access to Syria’s cash and funds. They have access to weaponry. They’re not gone as a threat yet,” he told ABC television.
Elsewhere in the offensive against ISIS, Syrian Kurdish forces have recaptured more than a third of the villages around the border town of Ain al-Arab since the jihadis withdrew from the town a fortnight ago, an activist group said. “The [Kurdish] YPG [militia] has recaptured 128 villages out of some 350 in the past two weeks,” said Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel-Rahman. “ISIS withdrew from villages east and south of [Ain al-Arab] mostly without resistance, but fought hard to try to keep control of villages to the west,” Abdel-Rahman said.
“That’s because it wants to try to protect areas under its control inAleppo province. But the Kurds are steadily advancing,” he told AFP.
Observers were also watching developments in the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa, to the east of Aleppo, with the situation on the ground fluid. There were reports of new curfews ordered by ISIS in parts of Raqqa province, which could see stepped-up attacks against the militants by Kurdish militia and Syrian rebels.
Separately, UN envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura is scheduled to arrive in Lebanon Monday and travel to the Syrian capital to follow up his initiative to “freeze” fighting in the northern city of Aleppo, sources said.