Middle East

Jordan's King Abdullah a formidable foe against ISIS, experts say

Jordan's King Abdullah is a former general and special forces commander who experts say has the resolve to follow through on his vow to crush ISIS.

Following the release of a ghastly video showing a captured Jordanian air force pilot being burned to death, the 53-year-old monarch warned that retribution will be swift. And with an army of more than 100,000 well-trained soldiers, tens of thousands more in reserves and a capable air force, Abdullah's kingdom is more than up to the task, Middle East experts told FoxNews.com.

"The king is very serious about being a military guy."

- Jon Alterman, Center for Strategic & International Studies

"Their ability to do difficult things with small numbers of highly trained people is up there with some of the best militaries in the world," Jon Alterman, director of the Center for Strategic & International Studies' Middle East Program, said of Jordan's military.

"The king is very serious about being a military guy," Alterman said. "For much of his life, he thought he was going to be a special forces commander and for some time he was."

"He didn’t do that from the back of chauffeured cars. He did that from Black Hawk helicopters and command posts at the site of terrorist raids," he noted. "The military is what gets him excited."

According to GlobalFirepower.com, Jordan has the 67th most powerful military in the world, which is far from superpower status, but capable of taking on Islamic State's stretched and in many cases undisciplined force, according to defense experts. Jordan's military has 110,700 active duty personnel, 65,000 reserve members, 1,321 tanks and 4,600 armored fighting vehicles. Its air fleet has 246 aircraft, including 74 fighter planes and 24 attack helicopters. The nation of 6 million has a defense budget of $1.5 billion.

The country can also count on support from other nations, including the U.S., many oil-rich gulf states, and possibly Japan, which had two of its citizens beheaded by ISIS days before the video surfaced.

King Abdullah II ascended to the throne in February 1999 following the death of his father, King Hussein.

Abdullah was schooled mainly in the West and has extensive military experience. He attended the Islamic Educational College in Amman before his education at St. Edmund's School in Hindhead, England, and later in the U.S. at Eaglebrook and Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts. In 1980, he joined the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and was commissioned into the British Army as a Second Lieutenant. Two years later, he completed a one-year course in Middle Eastern affairs at Pembroke College in Oxford and attended Georgetown University's Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service in 1987.

Abdullah became command of Jordan's special forces in 1993 and served as Major General in 1998. 

"In many ways, I think he'd really rather be jumping out of airplanes than meeting in Davos with the rich and powerful," said David Schenker, former adviser to Defense Secretary Donald Rumseld and director of the Arab politics program at The Washington Institute.

"The military milieu is one in which the King is most comfortable," Schenker told FoxNews.com.

"Regionally speaking, they are people of high quality," he said of Jordan's military force. 

Release of the video showing the Jordanian pilot's execution followed days of intense protests by Jordanians outside Abdullah’s palace over the government's refusal to agree on an ISIS prisoner swap without proof the pilot was alive. Many Jordanians as well as the pilot’s family faulted Amman – not ISIS – for allowing their country to be drawn into a "war" they claim is one between the Islamic State and the U.S. and its allies. Demonstrators outside the gates of the royal palace have cried out, "Abdullah, why are we fighting?" while other Jordanian protesters have taken to social media, creating an Arabic hashtag on Twitter that reads #NotOurWar.

Schenker said he believes such protests will cease -- at least temporarily -- now that the Jordanians have seen the brutality by which ISIS executed one of their own. 

"There are obvious risks with upping the ante," he said. "There's a very real prospect that more Jordanians will come into harm’s way and more additional troops will be taken captive or killed."

"It remains to be seen whether this desire for revenge will be sustained," Schenker said. 



Cristina Corbin is a Fox News reporter based in New York. Follow her on Twitter @CristinaCorbin.