US officials said a Russian fighter jet flew close to a US reconnaissance plane over Syria, forcing it to fly erratically and endangering the lives of the four American crew members, Politico reported on Tuesday.
The US-based news outlet quoted US officials as saying that the latest incident, which occurred on Sunday was "a significant escalation in a series of confrontations between US and Russian aircraft in Syria in recent weeks," adding that "the interception of the Russian Su-35 aircraft impeded the ability of the American crew to safely operate their MC-12 aircraft." US officials described the incident as "a new level of unsafe behavior that could lead to an accident or loss of life."
The officials claimed the MC-12, a twin-engine turboprop aircraft was conducting surveillance to support operations against ISIS in Syria.
However, Moscow has accused US forces in Syria of supporting ISIS to maintain leverage against the Syrian government, which Washington sought to topple through covert support for extremist groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda starting in 2011.
US forces have established multiple bases and occupy large swathes of northeast Syria since partnering with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), in late 2015. This allows the US to control much of Syria’s energy and wheat-producing regions to hinder Damascus’ efforts to rebuild the country following over a decade of war.
US forces regularly loot Syrian oil, transporting it in large tanker convoys across the border to US bases in Iraq for further sale through Turkey.
The US partnership with the SDF came in response to the Russian air force’s intervention in the war in September 2015, which prevented the fall of Damascus to US, UK, Turkish, and Gulf-backed extremist groups, including the Nusra Front and ISIS.
As a result, both US and Russian warplanes are active over Syria’s skies, requiring deconfliction mechanisms to avoid direct confrontations between the two nuclear-armed powers.
The Pentagon is sending high-end F-35 fighter jets and a Navy destroyer to the Middle East to fend off increasingly aggressive maneuvers by Russian pilots over #Syria and to defend commercial shipping from a spate of recent attacks by #Iran.https://t.co/72UBNYlLCb— Jason Brodsky (@JasonMBrodsky) July 17, 2023
In 2016, US military officials ordered the bombing of Syrian army soldiers battling ISIS near Deir Ezzor city, while ignoring Russian calls on the designated deconfliction line. The US attack killed 100 Syrian soldiers while allowing ISIS to gain a strategic position in Deir Ezzor.
As Al-Mayadeen notes, Russian President Vladimir Putin has previously stressed "the need for the United States to withdraw its forces from Syria and stop plundering the wealth of the Syrian people."
According to US officials, Russian and Iranian forces in Syria have been coordinating to eventually force Washington’s troops to withdraw from the country.
“There's a confluence of interests between those three groups, the Iranians, the Russians, and the Syrians. I see evidence of operational-level planning between mid-level Quds Force leadership that's operating in Syria [and] Russian forces that are operating in Syria,” the anonymous official told Al-Monitor.