Russia to Target US, Coalition Aircraft Over Syria

An F/A-18F Super Hornet launches from the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Danny Ray Nunez Jr.)
An F/A-18F Super Hornet launches from the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Danny Ray Nunez Jr.)

Russia condemned the U.S. shootdown of a Syrian Su-22 fighter bomber over Syria on Sunday, saying it will now track aircraft of any kind near its airspace in Syria with surface-to-air missiles.

The Russian Ministry of Defense said it will begin tracking joint coalition aircraft west of the Euphrates River and treat them as targets, officials said in a statement Monday.

The ministry also said it has suspended cooperation with the U.S. on deconfliction zones as it believes U.S. Central Command, the combatant command overseeing the Middle East, violated the memorandum of understanding the U.S. set up with Russia in 2015.

The memorandum established a phone "hotline" the militaries use to alert one another of actions they're taking in Syria.

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Until a thorough account of the attack from the U.S. Navy pilot who shot down the Su-22 is provided by CentCom, Russia will cease to work with the U.S. on deconflicting operations, the statement said.

The Russian Embassy in the U.S. said on Twitter the Syrian pilot ejected over Islamic State territory during the dogfight with the F/A-18E Super Hornet, and his status is unknown.

The escalation between the two aircraft occurred Sunday after the Soviet-era fighter-bomber dropped munitions near U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces fighters, CentCom officials said.

The strike was believed to be the U.S. military's first air-to-air kill involving manned aircraft in nearly two decades. The last known such instance was when a U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon shot down a Serbian MiG-29 in 1999 during the Kosovo campaign.

"A Syrian regime Su-22 dropped bombs near SDF fighters south of Tabqah and, in accordance with rules of engagement and in collective self-defense of coalition partnered forces, was immediately shot down by a U.S. F/A-18E Super Hornet," the command said in a release.

The attack comes after pro-Syrian forces attacked SDF fighters in Ja'Din, wounding a number of SDF fighters, officials said. The town is south of Tabqah and a known area where the U.S. works with Russia to deconflict the airspace.

"We made every effort to warn those individuals not to come any closer and then the commander made a judgment that there was a threat to forces that we were supporting and took action," Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford told reporters Monday at the National Press Club.

Russia also disputed reports that CentCom officials attempted to alert their Russian counterparts to de-escalate the attacks on the SDF. The ministry said the U.S. failed to use the established communication line between the militaries, the statement said.

The air-to-air kill marks the second between two major countries pursuing their own agendas in Syria while battling Islamic State forces.

In 2015, a Turkish F-16 fighter jet shot down a Russian Sukhoi Su-24M attack aircraft near Turkey's border with Syria.

Turkey, also involved in operations with the U.S. in anti-ISIS operations, claimed the jet was in violation of its airspace. The pilot was believed to be killed by Syrian rebels on the ground after he parachuted out of the aircraft.

Last summer, Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan apologized to Russian President Vladimir Putin for the event. Putin responded to the apology by ordering his government to start rebuilding ties with Turkey and, when Erdogan faced a botched coup attempt July 15, the Russian leader quickly offered his support.

While the U.S. maintains its mission is to defeat ISIS, the strike marks the fourth against pro-Syrian regime forces by the coalition in recent weeks.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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