Russia warns US its fighter jets are now potential target in Syria

The Guardian – By Patrick Wintour/Diplomatic editor – Monday June 19, 2017

Photo: An F/A-18 fighter shot down a Syrian air force jet on Sunday, intensifying tensions between superpowers. Photograph: Baz Ratner/Reuters.

US shooting down of Syrian jet seen as act of aggression by Russia, which is now tracking coalition fighters west of the Euphrates.

The threat of direct Russian-American confrontation in Syria escalated on Monday after Moscow said it will treat any plane from the US-led coalition flying west of the Euphrates river as a potential target.

Russia said it was responding to US planes shooting down a Syrian air force jet on Sunday. The US said its planes had acted to defend US-backed forces seeking to capture the Islamic State capital of Raqqa in north-east Syria.

It was the first such US attack on a Syrian air force plane since the start of the country’s civil war six years ago.

Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said the US strike “has to be seen as a continuation of America’s line to disregard the norms of international law.

“What is this if not an act of aggression? It is, if you like, help to those terrorists that the US is fighting against, declaring they are carrying out an anti-terrorism policy.”

The Russian ministry also said it would respond to the attack by suspending its communications channel with Washington, which is designed to prevent collisions and dangerous incidents in Syrian airspace.

The prime minister, Theresa May, intervened on Monday, urging Russia not to end the “deconfliction arrangements” since it increases the risk of an air fight breaking out inadvertently between Russian warplanes and US-led coalition warplanes.

Responding to Russian announcements, Marine Corps general Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the US would “work diplomatically and military in the coming hours to reestablish deconfliction”.

The growing risk of a direct confrontation between the US and Russia follows a decision by US president Donald Trump to grant his military chiefs untrammelled control of he US military strategy in Syria.

But the Pentagon insisted it was not seeking to escalate the conflict and had acted only after the Syrian jet in question had dropped bombs near US partner forces involved in the fight to wrest Raqqa from Isis control.

Russia stressed it will in future be tracking the coalition’s jets, not shooting them down, but added that “a threat for those jets may appear only if they take action that pose a threat to Russian aircraft”. Moscow’s foreign ministry said in a statement: “All kinds of airborne vehicles, including aircraft and UAVs of the international coalition detected to the west of the Euphrates river will be tracked by the Russian SAM systems as air targets.”

The US military has confirmed that a US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet had shot down a Syrian SU-22 on Sunday. The US said the Syrian jet had dropped bombs near Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters who are aligned with US forces in the fight against Isis. Damascus said its plane had been on anti-Isis mission.

Col John Thomas, a spokesman for US Central Command, said there were no US forces in the immediate vicinity but that the SDF was under threat for more than two hours.

The SDF, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters working alongside western special forces, said it would take action to defend itself from Syrian warplanes if attacks continued.

The Trump administration has promised to improve arms supplies to the SDF after it concluded that it was the force most capable of freeing Raqqa from Isis.

Growing tensions between Washington and Moscow over efforts to dislodge Isis from its Raqqa stronghold are a long way from Trump’s original plan to work with Russia in Syria to defeat the terror group.

Russia, a staunch supporter of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, had been pressing the US to make the removal of Isis a joint land and air operation, but discussions over Syria’s long-term political future appear to have ground to a halt, leaving the US military to operate in a political vacuum.

Senior US lawmakers have been voicing concern at the lack of a declared Trump administration strategy for Syria beyond the crushing of Isis. Democratic senator Chris Murphy warned on Twitter: “Four direct engagements with Syria/Iran/Russia in 45 days. Trump is quietly starting a new war that Congress has not declared. Red alert.”

Read entire article here

Posted by Teri Perticone


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