ST. PETE BEACH — Though the fight against the Sunni insurgent group Islamic State and similar groups is a global responsibility, Jordanian Princess Aisha bin Al Hussein told an audience of international commandos that, ultimately, it is up to the Muslim world to combat ideology espoused by groups like al-Qaida, Islamic State, Boko Haram and others acting in the name of Islam.
“It really has to come from within the Muslim communities to fight the ideology, and that doesn’t just mean in the Arab world,” Hussein, sister of King Abdullah II and her nation’s defense attache to the Jordanian embassy in Washington, said after her keynote speech Wednesday morning at a symposium on the future of special operations.
“That is something we have to do, unfortunately, you cannot help us with that. It’s our responsibility. We’ve allowed it to go on too long, and we know it’s critical that we address this situation as soon as possible.”
The world, she said, has long been battling extremism from all religions and regions.
“The tragedies we are witnessing today are unfortunately not new,” said Hussein, pointing out that Jordan has long been a target of jihadis, including attacks a decade ago that killed scores at hotels and weddings.
“Currently however, we are battling specific threats from so-called Islamic extremists, represented by al-Qiada, ISIL, Boko Haram , al Shabab, and the like, who share a common DNA, misusing the name of Islam to gain credibility with people or to attack followers, but in reality the organizations are antithetical to Islam, its ideals, beliefs and values.”
ISIL is another name for Islamic State.
“This is a war that has clearly spread across the region, into Africa, Asia and beyond, as seen by the alarming proliferation of the foreign fighters syndrome, the threat is everywhere. And it is a global concern,” she said.
To that end, Hussein said, “We are taking a direct role in fighting this threat as part of the coalition against ISIL. Jordan has not shied away from its responsibility, and we have paid dearly. Our soldiers on the front lines are heroically battling extremists who are constantly trying to infiltrate across our borders.
“His Majesty has been very clear that this war is not about West versus Islam, it is rather first and foremost our problem, of Muslims exposing this type of ideology for what it is — a terror, which is disavowed by the vast majority of 1.7 billion peaceful Muslims whose religion has been hijacked by groups of terrorists.”
The immolation of Jordanian F-16 pilot Muath al-Kasasabeh, captured by Islamic State in December, only served to unite the Hashemite kingdom, she said.
“Our responses to this have been swift and strong. We have been hitting targets ranging from weapons to ammunition depots to training camps, and the momentum continues,” she said. “This is our war, and we are waging it to protect our faith, values and humanitarian principal. It is a long-term and ideological war. The Jordanian people stand united against the terrorist threats and ideological extremism.”
The Jordanian military, she said, knows the risks.
“Before we started the air campaign,” she said, “His Majesty asked all the members of the air force, ‘Who was willing to fight?’ And they all raised their hands. They all knew what they were getting into.”
By burning al-Kasasabeh to death, Islamic State was trying to create fear, Hussein said.
“They want to come up with new and horrendous ways of taking life and causing countries and governments to back away from it, because of the possibility of what they can do, whether to Christian communities, to women, innocent children. They’re not going to stop.”
Islamic State, however, made a mistake by “not understanding that this young man, God rest his soul, came from a very powerful, wealthy, well-known Jordanian tribe, and the tribes are the backbone of our military and security services, and his death put our nation together.”
The “high-tech, Hollywood-quality movie” released by Islamic State showing al-Kasasabeh’s death is “something we are trying to get our minds around,” Hussein said.
The timing of the video’s release, while Abdullah was visiting Washington D.C., was an unsuccessful attempt to embarrass the king, she said.
“I think they tried to bring the video up when his majesty was in Washington, thinking he would be in a position not to do anything,” Hussein said. “I think he proved quite well that when he means he will take action, he takes immediate action, and we will continue with our fight against them.”
It is a fight, she said, that has a long way to go.
“And do I think it will get worse?” she asked. “Yes, I do. Until they are stopped,”
It’s a threat with global ramifications, Hussein said.
“The most important thing for everyone to understand is whether you are involved in the coalition or not, these terrorists are in your countries, and sooner or later something will happen in your country. I think it is a global responsibility. I think different countries can take on different roles. I think the time was yesterday when we should have been doing this, but we need to wake up, be aware, work together, and this is one of the reasons why Jordan is not just interested in the kinetic side.”
Threatened by a powerful enemy and with about a million refugees from Syria and Iraq, Jordan’s resources are badly stretched, said Hussein, who thanked the U.S. for its continuing support.
Seeking resources, Hussein said, “is the “biggest role I fulfill right now.”
“We need more equipment, more capability, and I am working with the (U.S.) State Department and Congress and the Senate, and across both aisles,” she said. “They have been absolutely wonderful in supporting Jordan and understanding the key role that we have been in, being in the middle of a tough neighborhood.”
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Hussein’s visit comes at a time when Jordan is one of the most motivated international partners in the battle against the Islamic State, which recently captured as many as 90 Christians in Syria.
Jordan is “our greatest ally in that part of the world,” says Stu Bradin, a founder of the foundation who last served as the leader of the Global Special Operations Forces operational planning team at U.S. Special Operations Command, reporting directly to former commander Bill McRaven.
Officials from that nation told The Tampa Tribune they are talking to Egypt, United Arab Emirates and other Arab nations about forming a quick-reaction force to battle the militant group on the ground.
Hussein declined comment about that effort.
“The Jordanian armed forces never speaks about the work we are doing on the ground,” she said. “Not from me, unfortunately.”
Hussein’s speech captured the conference’s “Anticipate the Future” theme and highlighted the importance of acknowledging that this is their fight.
The first-of-its-kind symposium has attracted more than 350 people and included representatives from the special operations forces of 23 nations, according to Bradin.
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Hussein, a major general in the Jordanian military who has flown F-16s and worked with that nation’s special forces, became the first female in the Middle East to receive her parachutist wings after completing five military parachute jumps, according to her official biography.
She successfully completed her officers’ training course at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, in the United Kingdom in April 1987, following her arrival as the first Middle East woman to attend the academy. After graduation from Sandhurst, the princess served in Jordan’s special forces and completed several additional parachuting courses.
Since 1996, she has taken part in several conferences by the Defense Department Advisory Committee on Women. She is a member of NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue and serves as a Jordanian expert in the internationally staffed NATO Human Factors and Medicine Research Task Group 140, on psychological, organizational and cultural aspects of terrorism, in all matters military and civilian.
She successfully completed numerous military courses, including Security and Protection with the Jordanian Royal Guards, Senior International Defense Management from the Naval Postgraduate School at the Defense Resources Management Institute in Monterey, California. She has also completed an open water diving course at the Scuba Schools International in New Jersey. She travels abroad frequently to further enhance her knowledge of military-related issues, particularly the role of women in the military.
“I hope there are better daughters out there,” she joked. “I have given my family many heart attacks.”