- UK to step up efforts to prevent another coalition pilot being taken by ISIS
- Comes after Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasasbeh was burned alive by ISIS
- He was captured by jihadis before a rescue mission could be launched
Britain’s Special Forces have set up a crack unit to rescue pilots who crash in Islamic State territory before they can be captured.
It follows the shocking news that Jordanian pilot Lieutenant Muath al-Kasasbeh was burned alive by IS terrorists after his F-16 fighter was shot down near the Syrian city of Raqqa on Christmas Eve.
He was captured by jihadis before a rescue mission could be launched, held for a fortnight and then killed in circumstances that caused revulsion around the world.
Defence sources confirmed last night that the UK has stepped up efforts to prevent another coalition pilot being taken by the enemy should their aircraft be shot down.
The Joint Personnel Recovery (JPR) units will be 12-man teams. The troops are poised to board armour-protected Chinook helicopters and will be accompanied on rescue missions by jets providing ‘top cover’.
A Special Forces source said: ‘We may have very little time to respond but we can go in with a lot of firepower and, depending on where he lands, we can hopefully get a downed pilot back before he is snatched by IS. This could be on the ground in Syria or in parts of Iraq occupied by the insurgents.
‘We are not a ‘boots on the ground’ force and we’re not changing the complexion of coalition operations, as we’d be in and out very quickly.
‘Our motivation couldn’t be higher given the gruesome death of the Jordanian pilot.’
The news came as a senior Jordanian politician vowed to ‘completely wipe out Islamic State wherever they are’. Interior minister Hussein al-Majali said: ‘We are going after them with everything we have.’
The rescue capability may also see the United Arab Emirates resume bombings. It stopped after Lieut al-Kasasbeh’s capture, citing fears over pilot safety.
Last night Shashank Joshi, senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, said: ‘In the last week the UK has upgraded its capability in this area. And following this development, I am hearing that the UAE is now more satisfied with JPR capability and will come back on board.
‘But for as long as Turkey refuses to allow its air bases to be used to used for operational missions, there is only so much that can be done. The major centres of IS, such as Kobani and Raqqa, are a long way from bases in Gulf states, including Jordan.’
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said last night: ‘If the need for Joint Personnel Recovery arose, the UK would work with its coalition partners to deploy the most appropriate assets.’