In Syria’s Skies, Close Calls With Russian Warplanes
AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar — Russian fighter jets have flown dangerously close to American warplanes in eastern Syria over the past month — including one near-collision — in what American
officials say is a pattern of daily Russian violations of an agreement to separate rival forces converging on the last main pocket of Islamic State militants in the country.
Every day, an American Air Force officer calls his Russian counterpart at an air base in Latakia,
Syria, to head off, or “deconflict,” as the military says, any potential problems over Syria.
“The greatest concern is that we could shoot down a Russian aircraft because its actions are seen as a threat to our air or ground forces.” The setting was similar last June in southern Syria, when American warplanes shot down a Syrian Air Force Su-22
and two Iranian-made drones after they had threatened American-backed militia forces.
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia declared on Wednesday
that the Islamic State in eastern Syria had suffered a “complete defeat” — a boast that American officials said exaggerated Moscow’s role and seemed to ignore the contentious efforts to rout the remaining 3,000 Islamic State disciples still on the run.
The Air Force pilots showed restraint, but given that the actions of the Su-24 could have reasonably been interpreted as threatening to
the American aircraft, the F-22 pilots would have been with their rights to fire in self-defense, officials at the Qatar air base said.
Syria said that There’s risk there,
Syrian Army troops backed by Russian air power and Iranian militia are advancing along the western side of the river; Syrian Arab
and Kurdish fighters, supported by American warplanes and Special Operations advisers, are pushing along the eastern river banks.