Huny Badger RIGHT WING TRIBUNE–
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is warning against dangerous flights by Russian fighter jets over what is considered a safe zone in Syria, questioning whether recent close calls were mistakes or deliberate.
U.S. forces fired warning shots at Russian aircraft Wednesday after a pair of Russian Su-25 aircraft crossed into U.S. coalition airspace over Syria.
The tense 40-minute encounter saw American military firing flares and chaff, metal clouds that are designed to confuse enemy radars, to warn the Russian fighters to move away. According to the Pentagon, one of the U.S. pilots had to pull an aggressive maneuver to avoid a mid-air collision. At one point, one of the U.S. F-22s shadowed one of the Russian Su-25 aircraft, Fox New reports.
Encounters like this are occurring more often recently, despite agreements between the countries to avoid this very scenario. Eric Pahon, a Pentagon spokesman, stated Russians have flown into coalition airspace six to eight times a day, which accounts for about 10% of all Russian and Syrian flights. (Russia agreed in November to keep its aircraft west of the Euphrates river.)
The encounter happened days after Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed to scale back air operations in Syria. The Pentagon, at the time, was skeptical of the claims
Mattis told Pentagon reporters Friday that the U.S. and Russia are still using a phone line to coordinate flight movements over crowded Syrian skies as the U.S.-led coalition goes after remaining Islamic State group militants.
Two Russian Su-25 fighters flew through an unofficial line separating Russian and American air forces in eastern Syria on Wednesday coming dangerously close to U.S. aircraft.
U.S. Air Force F-22 fighter jets launched warning flares in response.
Mattis says he doesn’t expect perfection in flights but also doesn’t want dangerous maneuvers. He says it’s not clear if it was deliberate or just sloppy flying.
Moscow’s defense minister disputed U.S. version of events, suggesting in a statement the interaction interrupted protection for a humanitarian aid convoy. The Su-25s then forced at least one F-22 to leave the area.
The Syrian skies have become another contested battle space between old adversaries, as President Bashar al-Assad’s forces backed by Russian air power and advisers on the ground have defeated rebel groups. Defense officials worry that continued fights over airspace could quickly heighten tensions between the nations as pilots make split-second decisions at the helm of armed jets flying hundreds of miles an hour, raising the chance of a miscalculation that results in either a collision or a shoot-down if they feel coalition troops are at risk.
Back in June of this year, Russia erupted publicly as Moscow condemned the American military’s downing of a Syrian warplane and threatened to target aircraft flown by the United States and its allies west of the Euphrates.
The Russians also said they had suspended their use of a hotline that the American and Russian militaries used to avoid collisions of their aircraft in Syrian airspace.
The episode was the first time the United States downed a Syrian plane since the civil war began there in 2011 and came after the SU-22 jet dropped bombs on Sunday near American-backed fighters combating the Islamic State. It followed another major American military action against the Syrian government: a cruise missile strike to punish a nerve gas attack that killed civilians in April.
Huny Badger is a Veteran who served our country as an Army Combat Medic.
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