Russian fighter jets harass US drones over Syria, US military says

BEIRUT (AP) — Russian fighter jets “harassed” U.S. drones over Syria for the third day in a row this week, the U.S. military said.

Tension between Russian and American troops is not uncommon in Syria, as both countries carry out ground patrols as well as overflights. The 12-year conflict in Syria has left half a million dead and more than a million injured.

The U.S. military said in a statement Friday’s encounter lasted about two hours, during which three MQ-9 drones were “once again harassed” by Russian warplanes as they flew over Syria.

“The Russian aircraft made 18 unprofessional close passes that caused the MQ-9s to react to avoid dangerous situations,” Lt. Gen. Alex Grynkewich, chief of U.S. Air Forces Central Command, said in a statement. .

Rear Admiral Oleg Gurinov, head of the Russian Reconciliation Center for Syria, said earlier this week that the Russian and Syrian military had started a six-day joint training which will end on Monday.

Gurinov added in comments carried by Syrian state media earlier this week that Moscow was concerned about the U.S.-led coalition’s drone flights in northern Syria, calling them “systematic violations of human rights.” protocols” designed to avoid clashes between the two armies.

The first friction occurred on Wednesday morning when Russian military aircraft “engaged in dangerous and unprofessional behavior” as three US MQ-9 drones carried out a mission against the Islamic State group, the US military said. On Thursday, the US military said Russian fighter jets were flying “incredibly dangerous and unprofessional” against French and US planes over Syria.

The United States and France are part of an international coalition fighting ISIS that once controlled most of Syria and Iraq, where extremists have declared a caliphate. Despite the defeat of IS in Iraq in 2017 and in Syria less than two years later, extremists continue to carry out deadly attacks in both countries.

On Friday, a drone attack by the US-led coalition killed a man in northern Syria who was riding a motorcycle. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, said the man was an IS militant.

Russia joined the Syrian conflict in September 2015 and has since helped tip the balance of power in favor of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces. Russian warplanes are still carrying out attacks on the last major rebel stronghold in northwestern Syria.

Every day, there are at least 900 US troops in Syria, along with an undisclosed number of contractors, associating with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

“We continue to encourage Russia to return to the established standards of a professional air force so that we can all focus on the enduring defeat of the Islamic State,” Grynkewich said, using a term to refer to the IS.

Gurinov, the Russian officer, warned that the increase in “uncoordinated flights” for coalition drones is leading to an escalation and that “Russia is not responsible for the safety of these flights”.

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