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Jordan's Military Claims New Air Strikes Against ISIS

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Jordan's military says its planes carried out new airstrikes today on the self-proclaimed Islamic State or ISIS. It's part of the country's reaction to the brutal killing of a Jordanian pilot. Ahead, an analyst will explain the significance of the ISIS video of the killing. First, NPR's Peter Kenyon has been talking to Jordanians and to military experts on what the government's pledge of a harsh response might actually mean.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: As King Abdullah met with the family of slain pilot Muath Kaseasbeh in southern Jordan, Air Force jets passed over the village for the second day in a row. This time state media say they were on their way home from a mission attacking ISIS targets in Syria. The king has declared that Kaseasbeh's blood will be expensive for ISIS, but it's not clear to Jordanians what exactly the government is planning to do.

In King Faisal Square in downtown Amman, 39-year-old Jerios Eada says there's no question that Jordan belongs with the anti-ISIS coalition. He loves hearing reports of airstrikes, but says they aren't enough.

JERIOS EADA: (Through interpreter) God willing, we need more than that. We need to go in by land as well and take care of them. This terrorist organization threatens the world, not just Jordan.

KENYON: But a more typical reaction comes from amateur magician and toy salesman Khaled Wasfi. The buzzing clatter of magnets tossed in the air attracts children to his streetside cart. He condemns Kaseasbeh's gruesome killing, but says how to respond isn't his department.

KHALED WASFI: (Through interpreter) The decision to avenge his death belongs to the military specialists. We can demand vengeance, but this is a military issue, and I can't make that decision.

KENYON: Retired Jordanian Air Force Major General Mamoun Abu Nuwar says the savage video of the burning of Lieutenant Kaseasbeh has so far backfired on ISIS, as today's airstrikes demonstrate. He also says another type of attack such as the use of Jordanian special operations forces in Iraq or Syria isn't out of the question.

MAMOUN ABU NUWAR: We might see some special ops against their leadership. We have very good human intelligence in that regard. They know exactly what's going on there.

KENYON: The intelligence comes mainly from tribal connections among Sunni leaders in Jordan, Iraq and Syria. Abu Nuwar cautions that none of this means Jordanian operations are necessarily imminent because the anti-ISIS coalition is very much run by the United States. Personally, Abu Nuwar would like to see a more aggressive effort. Even more sorties in the air campaign would help.

ABU NUWAR: The sortie rate which they are doing is very little. The air campaign is, I could say, slow. You know, using air power, you've got to be like a thunderstorm.

KENYON: But beyond the limits of Jordan's military capacity, there are also delicate limits on what's possible politically. Jordanians may be passionate in calling for revenge for Lieutenant Kaseasbeh now, says analyst and author Labib Kamhawi, but the government will be disappointed if it sees this as an opportunity to steamroll the opposition.

LABIB KAMHAWI: Jordanians are united in grief only, but not united over the issue itself that led to the grief.

KENYON: That issue is Jordan's participation in the coalition, quite unpopular among some Jordanians. The use of military force against ISIS is also divisive. Kamhawi says political realities argue against Jordan doing much more than remaining in the coalition.

KAMHAWI: I think the government and the king will exercise what they do best - lip service and massaging the emotions of Jordanians.

KENYON: Amman's latest move may be aimed at a domestic Islamist audience. The government released a Sheikh linked with al-Qaida but who has also been critical of ISIS. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Amman, Jordan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.