"We are waging this war to protect our faith, our values and human principles and our war for their sake will be relentless and will hit them in their own ground"- King Abdullah II on ISIS
On Wednesday, the radical terrorist group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as just Islamic State and now controlling much of northern Iraq and Syria) released a video showing their fighters burning a Jordanian hostage alive. Muath al-Kaseasbeh, a Jordanian pilot who participated in Jordan's airstrikes against ISIS (as part of the broader U.S.-led coalition) was captured late last year after his plane was shot down over ISIS-held territory. Though Jordan had been negotiating with ISIS for the release of al-Kaseasbeh, it appears that this brutal execution had already taken place nearly a month before the video was released.
The Kingdom of Jordan's response was swift and aggressive. The very next morning, Jordan hanged two prisoners who were part of terror attacks linked to ISIS (one of whom was previously part of the prisoner swap negotiations). Jordan also drastically ramped up its bombing campaign against ISIS targets. There was a pretty awesome rumor going around that Jordan's King Abdullah II was personally flying planes in these airstrikes. Though Abdullah did not personally lead the assault, he has vowed to play a much bigger part in the coalition against ISIS.
Jordan is a small, yet critical ally of the United States in the Middle East. Though only about the size of Indiana, the country of about 7 million people has only recently been considered an independent entity. For most of its recent history, the area known today as Jordan was part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire (which held most of this region until World War I). Following World War I, the British and French drew (somewhat arbitrary) borders and divided up the region into a series of Mandates (like saying "we are going to run your country until we think you are ready to do it yourself"). Jordan finally gained its independence in 1946.
Jordan's history has been tied closely with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Jordan joined the coalition of Arab nations in the 1948 war with Israel, and annexed the predominantly Palestinian territory of the West Bank. Israel then recaptured the West Bank in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. Since then, Jordan has taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees from the West Bank (today, roughly half of Jordan's seven million residents are originally from Palestine). Though the nation signed a formal peace treaty with Israel in 1994, there is still tension between the two nations over the large number of Palestinians living in Jordan.
Throughout most of its recent history, Jordan has remained a stable, (mostly) reliable ally to the United States. Though Jordan did not participate in the coalition against Saddam Hussein in Iraq in 2003, Jordan has long supported the efforts of Western powers to eliminate religiously motivated terrorism. Even the destabilizing effects of the Arab Spring protests (which sparked the Syrian civil war) were minimal throughout the country. When protests began to surface in Jordan in 2011, Abdullah announced several vague reforms to expand the democratic process, though these have yet to fully materialize (a point which has drawn criticism within the country). In all, Jordan has largely managed to avoid the wars, coups, and political instabilities of its regional neighbors.
Jordan's political system includes a king with nearly absolute rule, but Jordan also has a written constitution and a parliament loosely modeled after the British fashion. Since taking power following the death of his father in 1999, Abdullah has generally been credited with improving Jordan's economy, encouraging a more open press and society, and making some basic reforms for women's rights. Though some discussion of moving towards a more democratic system has occurred since the Arab Spring, Abdullah still maintains the vast majority of power in the country. Still, Jordan remains one of the most pro-Western countries in the region and has long supported close ties with the United States. This has been a point on contention for some in Jordan, as the close relationship makes Jordan a more likely target for ISIS attacks (its close proximity notwithstanding).
Regarding the most recent fight against ISIS, Jordan's support has been mostly providing intelligence and assistance for U.S. military operations. Now, the Senate Armed Services Committee has agreed that more military support and better hardware should be given to Jordan to fight ISIS (not our best military hardware though, which is reserved for us, or even our second best, which is reserved for Israel, more like our third best hardware). With Obama's recent decision to begin asking Congress for official War Powers (the leftovers from the 9/11 war powers acts apparently just aren't cutting it anymore), it is likely this support will increase.
Hopefully, the extremely brutal tactics of ISIS will drive fence-sitters in Jordan to support the nation's ramping up of its efforts against the extremist group (previously this support has been met with some criticism). A similar experience occurred after Al-Qaeda bombed several weddings in Jordan during the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Once this happened, many who were somewhat sympathetic to the group (due to its anti-American sentiments) quickly withdrew their support for the group.
If anything, it is becoming clear that the death of al-Kaseasbeh will not have been in vain, as it seems Jordan is becoming very serious about its promise to provide meaningful support to the American operations. The United Arab Emirates has also pledged to take its fight against ISIS more seriously after the U.S. promised to increase its commitment to search and rescue squads in the event more pilots are shot down. Though ISIS has claimed that this week's airstrikes killed an American hostage, this unsubstantiated claim is likely a (weak) attempt to get the coalition against ISIS to start fighting amongst itself. So long as ISIS continues to use such brutal tactics as public beheadings, burning prisoners alive, and forcing children to be suicide bombers, the coalition fighting against it is unlikely to fall apart anytime soon.
TL;DR; Jordan is a close ally, though often underrated compared to regional giants like Israel and Saudi Arabia.