WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. military accused Russia of carrying out “sloppy,” “reckless,” “irresponsible,” “imprecise,” and “frankly uncaring” operations in Syria on the heels of Turkey shooting down a Russian warplane near the Syrian border, saying the aircraft had repeatedly violated its air space.
While briefing reporters at the Pentagon from Baghdad, Army Col. Steven Warren, the spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, said the incident was an issue between the Turkish and Russian governments.
Nevertheless, he lambasted the Russian air campaign in Syria. Moscow claims it is primarily focused on targeting the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).
“Only a fraction of their attacks have been against ISIL targets. There are no ISIL targets in that area, where all this happened, anyway,” he said, referring to the location where the Turkish F-16s shot down the Russian warplane. “So we are concerned when the Russians don’t do what they say they’re going to do right. The Russians have said that they’re here to fight terrorism, but the Russians have routinely now demonstrated that their goal is to, you know, prop up and prolong the [Bashar al] Assad regime.”
“The majority of their strikes have been strikes that are a direct benefit to the Assad regime and it’s the Assad regime, really, in our view, that’s the problem here… It’s the Assad regime that has brought suffering and misery to the Syrian people which in turn has led to the growth of ISIL itself.”
Citing counts by various NGOs that the U.S. military believes are fairly accurate, he noted that the Russian military is responsible for more than 1,000 civilians casualties in Syria, including “over 100 kids.”
“This is the sloppy military work. This is the reckless and irresponsible, imprecise, and frankly uncaring approach to operations in Syria that the Russians have taken on,” he continued.
Col. Warren confirmed that the aircraft had been warned 10 times in the space of five minutes about violating Turkish air space, but the Russians did not respond.
“This is an incident between the Russian and Turkish governments,” he told reporters, noting that there were no American “F-15s in the area, no American personnel in the area, no American equipment in the area. This was purely an action that took place between the Russians and the Turks.”
The U.S.-led coalition distanced itself from the incident.
Although the Army colonel acknowledged that U.S. military radars tracked the Russian warplane and the Turkish F-16s approaching it, he said the Pentagon could not confirm whether the Russian aircraft had invaded Turkish airspace.
“Well certainly we have radars and other acquisition capabilities in place and we are able to track all of the aircrafts in those areas. We are still gathering all of the facts,” he explained. “And looking at all of the details, as you know, in some of these more remote regions and the mountainous area and at 30,000 feet or whatever the altitude is, it’s often difficult to know exactly where the border is.”
“We’re still kind of analyzing all of our data to determine exactly what we know. You know often you look at a map and on our overlays they would be a line there to indicate here is where the border is, but you know the thickness of that line can make a difference and of course it does in this case,” he added. “So, the incident happened, you know, at the border, that much I can tell you, but beyond that we’re still trying to collect and sift through all the data.”
Footage provided by Turkish broadcaster Haberturk TV showed the Russian warplane going down in flames as it crashed in a wooded part of territory the TV described as “Turkmen Mountain.”
Separate footage from Turkey’s Anadolu Agency showed two Russian pilots parachuting out of warplane before it crashed.
“A deputy commander of rebel Turkmen forces in Syria said his men shot both pilots dead as they came down,” reports Reuters.
“A video sent to Reuters earlier appeared to show one of the pilots immobile and badly wounded on the ground and an official from the rebel group said he was dead,” notes the article. “But a Turkish government official told Reuters the pilots were believed still to be alive and that Ankara was working to secure their release from Syrian rebels.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin claims the plane had taken down when it was 1 km (0.62 mile) inside Syria and warned of “serious consequences” for what he described as a stab in the back administered by “the accomplices of terrorists”.
“We will never tolerate such crimes like the one committed today,” declared Putin.
Turkey is a member of NATO.