American Navy jets scrambled to intercept several Russian warplanes over Syrian skies this weekend as they bombed a base of 200 U.S.-backed rebel fighters despite warnings to back off.
Several Russian SU-34s were bombing the At Tanf garrison of U.S.-backed Syrian rebels near the Jordanian border when they were confronted by two U.S. F/A-18 jet fighters who told them to cease their attack.
The Russian warplanes left the area after being confronted, but when the American jets paused to refuel, they returned to bomb paramedics who were treating people wounded in the first attack.
The bombings took place in an area of Syria that Russian jets don’t usually fly in.
No American forces were in the area at the start of the bombing, but the scrambled U.S. Navy jets used an emergency communications channel to tell Russian officers to cease their attack, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“It’s an egregious act that must be explained. The Russian government either doesn’t have control of its own forces or it was a deliberate provocative act. Either way, we’re looking for answers.”
The U.S.-backed rebels were conducting anti-ISIS operations in the area when they were attacked by Russian warplanes. The fighters are part of a shaky ceasefire between the rebels and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian allies.
When the U.S. Navy jets arrived on the scene they used a special hotline to contact the Russian pilots bombing the rebels, the Pentagon told the Daily Beast.
“Pilots CAN communicate with one another on a communications channel set up to avoid air accidents.”
The special channel was set up in October to prevent this kind of aerial confrontation as part of a Safety of Flight Memorandum of Understanding.
The Russian government, however, denied bombing the U.S. backed Syrian rebels saying they warned members of the U.S. backed coalition of their targets before launching strikes, reports CNN.
“The object which had suffered bombardment was located more than 300 km far from borders of territories claimed by the American party as ones controlled by the opposition joined the ceasefire regime.”
The Russians contend the event was America’s fault because they didn’t previously identify the rebels as friendly. The Pentagon and Russian military conducted a conference call Saturday to discuss the air strikes.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov proposed the U.S.-led coalition share information about the locations of various forces months ago, but was turned down by the Pentagon, reports the Daily Mail.
“Russia’s continued strikes at At-Tanf, even after US attempts to inform Russian forces through proper channels of ongoing coalition air support to the counter-ISIL forces, created safety concerns for US and coalition forces.”
The incident with Russian warplanes comes days after a State Department dissent memo criticizing Barack Obama’s handling of Syria became public. The dissent memo urged Obama to bomb forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is Russia’s ally.
“No one’s content with the status quo. Too many people are dying.”
The violent Syrian civil war is approaching its fifth year.
Russian air strikes and the intervention of Iranian-backed forces have given Assad a slim advantage in recent months.
The close encounter with Russian warplanes underscores how chaotic the skies over Syria have become. The Russian government previously tried to coordinate with U.S.-led forces to conduct joint airstrikes but was rebuffed by the Pentagon.
Russian warplanes have been known to shadow U.S. fighter jets over Syria, but their behavior has always been described as “professional.” That’s in clear contrast to other antagonistic behavior by Russian warplanes that have buzzed several U.S. warships in other areas of the world.
[Photo by Maya Alleruzzo, File/AP Images]