The Pentagon has announced a new major incident involving Russia over the skies of Syria, after a string of hostile close encounters between Russian fighter jets and US drones which were ostensibly conducting 'counter-ISIS' missions.
The military says a US MQ-9 Reaper drone was damaged after being intercepted and harassed by an Su-35 fighter, during which time the Russian warplane released flares close to the American drone.
Only unveiled Tuesday, which included release of video of the incident, the encounter happened Sunday, presumably over or near eastern Syria, where Washington has for years maintained a troop presence, and has occupied Syria's oil and gas fields.
US officials say a Russian and Iranian campaign is in full swing towards pressuring the US to retreat from the region and halt its military operations. Russian intercepts of US drones have now occurred several times over the last months, with the US each time condemning "unsafe" and "irresponsible", threatening maneuvers.
Concerning the new incident, "The U.S. drone managed to limp back to its base in the region but its propeller was damaged, according to U.S. officials who issued photos and video of the encounter," writes The Wall Street Journal. The military statement described the drone as "severely damaged"—which is a significant first in Syria.
"One of the Russian flares struck the U.S. MQ-9, severely damaging its propeller," Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, the top U.S. Air Force commander in the region, said. "Fortunately, the MQ-9 crew was able to maintain flight and safely recover the aircraft to its home base."
⚡️The US Air Force Central Command reports that on July 23, in the skies over Syria, a Russian Su-35S fighter aircraft performed "unsafe maneuvers" near an MQ-9 Reaper reconnaissance and strike UAV. pic.twitter.com/sgo7mfXXJu— War Monitor (@WarMonitors) July 25, 2023
But Moscow has issued a counternarrative, saying that it is actually reckless US aircraft nearly colliding with Russian jets, which have a right to be in Syrian skies at the invitation of the Assad government.
Early this month the Pentagon said there were three Russian intercept incidents of US drones during three consecutive days. It appears a Russian pressure campaign which has ratcheted particularly since Moscow's invasion of Ukraine last year.
These 'harassment' episodes over Syria appear very similar to the March 14, 2023 event closer to Russia 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. The drone then had to be crash landed in the waters below, and was lost.
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.
Al-Monitor report: Russia🇷🇺 and Iran🇮🇷 are coordinating their forces to pressure the United States to withdraw its occupation troops from Syria🇸🇾, where US troops are occupying the one-third of Syria which contains 80% of Syria’s oil and most of the nation’s wheat production. pic.twitter.com/hOmRs1ntV7— Going Underground (@GUnderground_TV) July 16, 2023
The Pentagon has also lately been reemphasizing this counter-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.
But Damascus, Moscow, and Tehran have pointed out that ISIS grew out of and was fueled by the NATO-Gulf regime change efforts to oust Assad, which started in 2011 and 2012, destroying much of Syria and resulting in mass killings. Meanwhile, millions of Syrians of all political orientations are still starving and suffering under US-led sanctions, with severe electricity and fuel shortages to boot.