The Defense Department is accusing Russia of intentionally violating an agreement meant to avoid military accidents in the skies over Syria following an incident last week involving U.S. and Russian fighter jets.
“Russia is failing to genuinely de-conflict airspace in Syria. Some of these incidents are not mistakes,” Pentagon chief spokeswoman Dana White told CNN on Thursday.
“We are working to address this issue at the highest levels."
Two U.S. F-22 fighter jets last week intercepted two Russian Su-25 attack jets and fired warning flares after the Russian aircraft flew east of the Euphrates River. The river has been designated as a deconfliction line as it separates Russian and U.S.-led coalition forces operating in the country.
Russian and U.S. military officials agreed last month to fly on opposite sides of a 45-mile portion of the river in an effort to prevent in air collisions, but the Russians have violated the agreement half a dozen times, according to U.S. commanders.
Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman Mattis The US can't go back to business as usual with Pakistan The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate nears surprise deal on short-term debt ceiling hike Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon chiefs to Congress: Don't default MORE last week said the deconfliction line was still up, and it was unclear why the Russians were violating the agreement.
“I don't know if this is a mistake ... I don't expect perfection, but I don't expect dangerous maneuvers, either. And so we'll sort this out,” Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon.
“Right now, I cannot tell you if it's sloppy airmanship, or a rambunctious pilot, or people who are trying to do something that was very unwise,” Mattis added.
Russia last week denied that its aircraft crossed the deconfliction line and said in a statement that the incident happened west of the Euphrates River.
The incidents come after President TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 panel faces double-edged sword with Alex Jones, Roger Stone Trump goes after Woodward, Costa over China Republicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves MORE and Russian President Vladimir Putin last month pledged to “maintain open military channels of communication between military professionals to help ensure the safety of both US and Russian forces and de-confliction of partnered forces engaged in the fight against [the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria].”
But as recently as Saturday, a Russian aircraft struck targets east of the Euphrates River — without informing the U.S.-led coalition, a military official told CNN.
The frequent incidents concern military officials because forces might have to shoot down a Russian aircraft over Syria “because its actions are seen as a threat to our air or ground forces,” U.S. Air Forces Central Command spokesman Lt. Col. Damien Pickart told CNN.