Saudi prince and Emirate’s first female fighter pilot take part in Syria air strikes


Saudi Arabia has offered a royal seal of approval to the US-led fight against the Islamic State group, sending its top pilot prince on bombing runs over Syria.

Prince Khaled bin Salman sits in the cockpit of a fighter jet after taking part in a mission to strike Islamic State targets in Syria (AFP/Getty)

On Wednesday, the Saudi government released photos of Prince Khaled bin Salman smiling shyly from the cockpit of his F15 fighter jet.P

The prince was said to have piloted one of four planes as jets from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) joined American aircraft on bombing runs over Syria.

Saudi Arabia’s decision to publicise Prince Khaled’s role is likely two-fold, reassuring the west of the Kingdom’s firm stance against extremist groups and warning Saudi citizens that the Islamic State, also known as Isil or Isis, is an enemy of the Crown.

Prince Khaled is the son of prime minister, defence minister and heir to the Saudi throne Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz.

Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE’s ambassador to the United States, confirmed on Thursday that the country’s first female fighter pilot, Major Mariam Al Mansouri, 35, took part in her own kingdom’s military action.

Mansouri graduated from Abu Dhabi’s Khalifa bin Zayed Air College in 2007 and is veteran pilot of F-16 warplanes.

Mr Al Otaiba discussed the UAE’s commitment in combating ISIL and fighting extremism on the live-broadcast American television show Morning Joe, a weekday morning talk show on MSNBC.

During the show, Mr Al Otaiba said: “We will bring whatever it takes to defeat Isis [Isil] and other forms of extremism.”

View image on Twitter

Mansouri is reportedly the first female UAE pilot of a fighter jet. She graduated from Abu Dhabi’s Khalifa bin Zayed Air College in 2007 and is veteran pilot of F-16 warplanes. Washington has said the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Jordan, took part in the strikes on the Islamic State, which has seized swaths of Iraq and northern Syria.

Mansouri’s participation in the raid stirred a debate on social media networks, with supporters posting her picture on Twitter and commending her service. “She is taking part in crushing the dens of Daesh,” wrote one woman on Twitter, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

View image on TwitterAngry Islamist sympathisers, however, slammed Mansouri’s “criminal” act. The UAE is a largely conservative Gulf state, where women citizens wear the traditional Islamic head cover and black Abaya loose cloak. But authorities in the oil-rich state have made efforts to put pioneering women forward and many women have assumed top government positions.

Dozens of militants from the Islamic State group have reportedly been killed in the bombing raids, prompting anger from the group’s sympathisers online. On Wednesday, Twitter users warned that Saudi Arabia’s airmen were “wanted by IS” and that their throats would be slit.

Although slow to join the fray, the Gulf monarchies are now united in their fight against Isil, wary of the threat the group could pose within their borders. Militants from Saudi Arabia make up one of the largest groups of foreign fighters in Syria, according to the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King’s College London.

The willingness of Gulf monarchies and other Sunni states to openly deploy their militaries marks a significant departure from their traditional tactic of allowing the US military to protect their regional interests.

This time, the US has been careful not to proceed without international backing, wary of being seen to act unilaterally.

US Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly asked for Saudi cooperation when he met with King Abdullah on September 11. According to the Wall Street Journal, the king responded: “We will provide any support you need.”

British warplanes are poised to join the growing international coalition. Speaking from the United Nations summit in New York, Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday issued a rallying cry for MPs to back military action when they are recalled to parliament on Friday. Speaking in front of the Security Council, he called Isil “an evil against which the whole world must unite”.

Since declaring a “caliphate’ straddling the borders of Syria and Iraq, the group has killed thousands of civilians. Images of its most gruesome acts – among them beheadings and crucifixions – have been paraded across social media.



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