US says Russia ‘harassing’ drones in Syria

The United States has accused Russian fighters of flying dangerously close to several of its drones over Syria, setting off flares and forcing the MQ-9 Reapers to take evasive action.

US Air Forces Central released a video of Wednesday’s encounter, showing a Russian SU-35 fighter closing in on the drone.

Footage showed the Russian pilot positioning his aircraft in front of the Reaper and turning on the afterburner, dramatically increasing speed and air pressure and making it harder to operate the drone, the air force said in comments accompanying the video.

So-called parachute flares were also released.

“The Russian SU-35 fighter aircraft employed parachute flares in the flight path of US MQ-9 aircraft,” the air force said, adding, “Against established norms and protocols, this forced US aircraft to conduct evasive manoeuvres.”

Three US drones were airborne at the time of the incident on Wednesday morning, Lieutenant General Alexus Grynkewich, the commander of the Ninth Air Force in the Middle East, said in a statement.

He accused the Russian aircraft of “harassing the drones”, which he said were engaged in a mission against Daesh.

“Russian military aircraft engaged in unsafe and unprofessional behaviour while interacting with US aircraft in Syria,” he continued, adding that the actions threatened the safety not only of US forces but also Russian forces.

Army General Erik Kurilla, head of US Central Command, stated that Russia’s violation of ongoing efforts to clear the airspace over Syria “increases the risk of escalation or miscalculation”.

About 900 US forces are deployed to Syria to work with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces against Daesh. No other details about the drone operation were released, and the statements did not reveal where the incidents took place.

Oleg Gurinov, deputy chief of the Russian Center for Reconciliation of the Opposing Parties in Syria (a division of the Russian defense ministry), also said on Wednesday the US-led international coalition’s drones were seen flying over an area of the Russian-Syrian drills five times during the past day in violation of flight safety rules.

According to Gurinov, the Russian side once again expresses concern over the systemic violations of the deconfliction protocols linked with the flights of the coalition’s drones.

“During the day, twelve violations were reported, including five over an area that was closed for flights due to the joint Russian-Syrian drills in northern Syria. We remind that the Russian side bears no responsibility for the safety of flight of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), which were not agreed with the Russian side,” he added.

He also stated that two shelling attacks on the positions of Syria’s government army were reported in the Idlib de-escalation zone during the day from the positions of the Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist group in the Aleppo and Latakia governorates.

The joint Russian-Syrian air force and air defense force drills began in Syria on July 5. It is planned to drill joint actions by aviation, air defense forces and electronic warfare to repel air attacks.
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