US fighters, coalition aircraft escort Russian bombers in eastern Syria: report
U.S. fighter jets and other coalition aircraft escorted Russian aircraft that flew into restricted airspace in Syria, military officials confirmed.
“We can confirm reports that U.S. F16 aircraft were involved in the safe escort of Russian aircraft in Syria, which is a standard de-confliction protocol,” U.S. Central Command said in an emailed statement on Wednesday.
According to CNN, which first reported the incident on Tuesday, a cargo aircraft and two Tu-22 bombers flew into the Eastern Syria Security Area — which stretches from Deir el-Zour in Syria to the Iraq border.
U.S.-led coalition forces that control the area hadn’t been given sufficient notice that the Russian aircraft would be there. As a result, U.S. F-16 fighter jets flew alongside the Russian aircraft until they left the area.
About six hours later, American planes had to escort another Russian cargo aircraft and military jet that flew into the restricted airspace, CNN added.
“The intent of the protocol is to ensure our forces de-conflict their activity in space and time,” Central Command said. “The de-confliction protocols also establish general rules to prevent our forces from inadvertently demonstrating hostile intent towards each other and for de-escalating any situation where our forces interact.”
The incident comes as the U.S. and the West remain on edge amid the possibility of a Russian military incursion against Ukraine. Moscow has denied such intentions and recently announced that it would draw down some of the 150,000 troops it has amassed near the Ukrainian border.
CNN noted, however, that Tuesday’s incident is not believed to be part of Russia’s military posture against Ukraine.
The Russian defense ministry said Tuesday that it had deployed Tu-22M strategic bombers and MiG-31k fighter jets with hypersonic missiles to its air base in Syria for drills, Reuters reported, citing Interfax news agency.
Reuters noted that the Kremlin previously announced in late January that all of its naval fleets are participating an array of exercises, and the drills involve more than 140 warships and dozens of planes.
This story was updated at 1:08 p.m.