Russian and US military aircraft had a dangerous close encounter in the skies of Syria on Wednesday, the Pentagon has revealed. US officials described that it involved Russian jets "harassing" three American drones which were actively engaged in counter-ISIS operations.
A US Air Force statement said the Russian warplanes were engaged in "unsafe and unprofessional behavior" and demanded that Moscow end its "reckless behavior" over Eastern Syria, where many hundreds of US troops are still occupying Syrian land.
The conduct "threaten[s] the safety of both U.S. and Russian forces," the USAF statement continued. The Pentagon quickly declassified and released video purporting to show the incident.
The Pentagon detailed the encounter and sequence of events as follows:
Three MQ-9 Reaper drones were engaged by three Russian fighter jets at about 10:40 a.m. local time, according to a statement from Lt. Gen. Alexus G. Grynkewich, commander of the Ninth Air Force, an Air Force Service Component of U.S. Central Command.
Grynkewich said the jets broke "established norms and protocols" by dropping "multiple parachute flares in front of the drones," subsequently forcing them to "conduct evasive maneuvers."
One of the Russian pilots also positioned their jet in front of a drone and "engaged afterburner, thereby reducing" the drone "operator's ability to safely operate the aircraft," Grynkewich said.
Below: video released by US forces showing Russian jets coming very close to US drones over Syria. At one point the Russian fighters release parachute flares in the path of the drones...
US releases footage which appears to show Russian Su-35 fighter jets flying close to MQ-9 Reaper drones over Syria. 🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/bjAuo23OXt— Forces News (@ForcesNews) July 6, 2023
The past months have witnessed a series of similar incidents in the Middle East, US officials have said. The US recently authorized deployment of F-22 Raptor stealth fighters in defense of US positions in the northeast of the country.
This whole 'harassment' episode over Syria actually seems very similar to the March 14, 2023 event which resulted in an American MQ-9 Reaper drone crashing into the Black Sea. A Russian Su-27 fighter jet had intercepted and damaged the drone, at one point dumping fuel on it in mid-air flight.
In Syria, the US administration has justified any and all US military actions as based on "countering ISIS" - even though the Islamic State has long been driven underground and was defeated. Russia and Syria have charged that the US really just wants to steal Syria's oil and gas resources, as part of the continued economic war against Damascus. The fresh Pentagon statement referenced the ISIS mission: "We urge Russian forces in Syria to cease this reckless behavior and adhere to the standards of behavior expected of a professional air force so we can resume our focus on the enduring defeat of ISIS," it said.