U.S. and other coalition aircraft are trying to fight in increasingly crowded airspace thanks to Russian efforts in Syria, and have even been forced to cancel a mission on one occasion. With the U.S. and Russia in a fundamental disagreement over the future of Syria, more incidents seem likely.
According to CNN, two F-16s from Incirlik air base in Turkey were on their way to strike an ISIS stronghold in Syria. But they were forced to abort the mission because a Russian aircraft came within 20 nautical miles.
Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis explained that the action was taken to avoid the aircraft coming dangerously close and risking the safety of the pilots involved.
He said that it was the first incident since the Russians began their aerial campaign last month, but with little communication or agreement between Moscow and coalition forces, odds are there will be plenty more problems.
Few other details have been released about the incident.
Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said America would not cooperate with Moscow over Syria so long as Russian strategy remains focused on moderate rebel groups.
“I have said before that we believed that Russia has the wrong strategy – they continue to hit targets that are not ISIL [ISIS]. We believe this is a fundamental mistake. Despite what the Russians say we have not agreed to cooperate with Russia so long as they continue to pursue a mistaken strategy and hit these targets.”
The comments came after the Russian defense minister announced he was reviewing U.S. proposals for coordinating forces.
As a result of the lack of coordination, U.S. forces now have a rule that all flights must be rerouted if they come within 20 nautical miles of a Russian aircraft. An American official said that the Russian pilots could not be counted on to fly under standard safety procedures.
After over a year of aerial intercepts over Europe and a handful of frightening close-calls, coalition forces have reason to be cautious.
The Inquisitr has reported on over a half a dozen intercepts between Russian and Western aircraft, representing just a handful of the over 100 similar encounters since the beginning of 2014.
In one of the closest calls so far, a Russian jet came within 10 feet of a U.S. aircraft over the Baltic Sea.
Still, the Pentagon says the Russian presence has not interfered with the overall mission in Syria, and U.S. officials said they would welcome “constructive contributions” to coalition efforts to fight ISIS.
State Department spokesman John Kirby said on Wednesday that “greater than 90 [percent] of the strikes that we’ve seen” were against targets not affiliated with ISIS or al-Qaeda.
“They’ve been largely against opposition groups – groups that want a better future for Syria and don’t want to see the Assad regime stay in power.”
President Obama has maintained that keeping Bashar Al-Assad, a close ally of Vladimir Putin, in power was not an option for Syria’s future.
Still, the U.S. and Russia have been talking over secure video conference channels according to Reuters, trying to work out technical details on how to keep aircraft safe as they fly on uncoordinated missions.
Aston Carter insists the meetings are “basic.”
“What we will do is continue basic, technical discussions on the professional safety procedures for our pilots flying above Syria. That’s it. We will keep the channel open because it’s a matter of safety for our pilots.”
The U.S. aircraft had to abort its mission because of Russian activity just a few days after technical talks started on October 1.