National Security

Spy chief: Clinton’s Syria plan could spark conflict with Russia

Lauren Schneiderman

A proposal backed by Hillary Clinton could cause Russia to lash out and shoot down American planes over Syria, the nation’s top intelligence official said on Tuesday.

Clinton has repeatedly called for a no-fly zone to halt the chaos in Syria and prevent Russian and Syrian government forces from launching airstrikes in the war-torn country, which is a break with the Obama administration’s policy.  

{mosads}But doing so could trigger a backlash from Russia that might put Americans at risk, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said.

“I’m not a mind reader, but I do take seriously the very sophisticated air defense system and air defense coverage that the Russians have,” Clapper said at an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations.

“I wouldn’t put it past them to shoot down an American aircraft if they felt that was threatening to their forces on the ground.”

Clinton has pushed for the establishment of a no-fly zone for one year. A no-fly zone would likely have U.S. military planes flying over Syria to prevent Syrian and Russian aircraft from entering. 

“I think a no-fly zone could save lives and could hasten the end of the conflict,” the Democratic nominee said last week during the final 2016 presidential debate.

“This would take a lot of negotiation and would also take making it clear to the Russians and Syrians that our purpose here was to provide safe zones on the ground.”

The policy has earned Clinton plaudits from hawks like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the head of the Armed Services Committee.

But Russia, which is backing Syrian President Bashar Assad against the U.S.-supported rebels, has deployed advanced anti-aircraft systems to protect Syrian airspace. It might not back down so easily, Clapper said.

“I take stock in the nature of the weaponry that they deploy and why they did that,” he said on Tuesday. “The system they have there is a very advanced air defense system, is very capable. And I don’t think they’d deploy it unless they had some intent to use it.”

Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has similarly warned that establishment of a no-fly zone in Syria “would require us to go to war against Syria and Russia.” Dunford made his comments during an appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee in September.

Tags Hillary Clinton John McCain Syria
See all Hill.TV See all Video