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Tensions Rise After U.S. Downs Syrian Military Jet

by Countable | 6.19.17

An American jet shot down a Syrian military aircraft on Sunday, heightening tensions between the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS and the Russian-backed Assad regime. Russia’s defense ministry said its anti-aircraft missile batteries will now track coalition jets as targets, and temporarily stop using a communication channel aimed at preventing accidents occurring between coalition and Russian forces.

What happened?

The Dept. of Defense said that forces loyal to the Assad regime were engaged with coalition fighters in a village near the besieged ISIS stronghold of Raqqa, prompting the U.S. to use a "deconfliction" channel to notify Russia and deescalate the situation. U.S. jets then brought the fighting to a stop by flying slowly close to the ground in a “show of force,” but hours later a Syrian jet flew in and bombed the coalition troops, primarily Arabs and Kurds with the Syrian Democratic Forces.

American aircraft attempted to contact the Syrian aircraft after it dropped its payload, but when it didn’t respond a F/A-18 Super Hornet shot down the Syrian Su-22 jet in accordance with its rules of engagement, killing the pilot. It marked the first time a U.S. aircraft has shot down an enemy plane since 1999, when a Air Force F-15 downed a Serbian jet over Kosovo.

The aftermath

Russia’s defense ministry issued a terse statement saying the coalition "did not use the established communication channel for preventing incidents in Syrian airspace" and that the ministry “ends co-operation with the American side” through that channel. It added that:

"Any flying objects, including planes and drones of the international coalition, discovered west of the Euphrates river will be tracked as aerial targets by Russia’s air defences on and above ground.”

U.S. Central Command issued a statement reiterating that U.S. aircraft acted within the rules of engagement in defense of coalition forces, and responded to Russia’s threat with the following:

"The Coalition’s mission is to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The Coalition does not seek to fight Syrian regime, Russian, or pro-regime forces partnered with them, but will not hesitate to defend Coalition or partner forces from any threat."

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford added in a speech Monday that the U.S. will continue to communicate with Russia and American forces will defend themselves:

"I’m confident that we are still communicating between our operations center and the Russian federation operations center — and I’m also confident that our forces have the capability to take care of themselves.”

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— Eric Revell

(Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force / Public Domain)

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