Pentagon: U.S. Fighter Jets Intercept Russian Aircraft over Syria

AP Photo/Thomas Meneguin

U.S. warplanes intercepted Russian aircraft flying into coalition airspace over Syria on Wednesday, the Pentagon confirmed.

Two American F-22A Raptors moved to head-off the two Russian Su-25’s after they penetrated coordinated coalition airspace on the eastern side of the Euphrates River.

According to a Pentagon spokesman, the U.S. aircraft attempted to “persuade” the Russians to vacate coalition airspace by dropping flares, chaff, and issuing warnings on the emergency channel specifically created to avoid conflict between Russian and American forces.

At one point in the encounter, a Russian jet flew so close to an American plane that the Raptor had to quickly turn away in order to avoid a collision. A Russian Su-35 fighter also crossed over the river, and was closely monitored by an American plane.

Coalition leaders also worked to defuse the situation by reaching out to their Russian counterparts. According to the Pentagon, the Russian aircraft eventually flew back to the west side of the Euphrates after approximately 40 minutes.

The Pentagon spokesman wrote in a statement:

The Coalition’s 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. We train our aircrew to take specific actions and to make every attempt possible to de-escalate the situation wherever possible.

We are not here to fight the Russians and Syrians. Our focus remains on defeating ISIS. That said, if anyone threatens Coalition or friendly partner forces in the air or on the ground, we will defend them.

Russian violations of coalition airspace are frequent events in the skies over Syria. Russian and American leaders came to a verbal de-confliction agreement in November, with the understanding that the American-led coalition forces would remain on the east side of the Euphrates, while the Russians would stay on the west side.

According to the Pentagon spokesman, Russian aircraft violate coalition airspace six to eight times per day.

CNN reported, “America’s top military officer, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, spoke on the phone last week with his Russian counterpart, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, according to a spokesman for the Joint Staff. “Several U.S. officials told CNN that de-confliction and operations in Syria were part of the discussions.”