Russia warns US after Syrian warplane downed

- Agence France-Presse, BEIRUT

Jun 21, 2017-

Russia has warned it would track US-led coalition aircraft in Syria as potential “targets” and halted a military hotline with Washington after US forces downed a Syrian jet.

The United States moved quickly to contain an escalation, with a top general saying it would work to relaunch the “deconfliction” hotline established in 2015.

The downing of the jet and Russia’s response came as the US-led coalition and allied fighters battle to oust the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group from its Syrian bastion Raqa.

Analysts say neither Washington nor President Bashar al-Assad’s regime appear to be seeking further confrontation, although the risks remain high in Syria’s increasingly crowded battlefields and airspace. “Any flying objects, including planes and drones of the international coalition, discovered west of the Euphrates River will be tracked as aerial targets by Russia’s air defences on and above ground,” said Russia’s defence ministry on Monday.

It said Washington had failed to use the hotline--a vital incident-prevention tool--before downing the plane near Raqa. “We will work diplomatically and militarily in the coming hours to re-establish deconfliction,” said US General Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, referring to the hotline.

Pentagon spokesman, Major Adrian Rankine Galloway, said the US had taken “prudent measures to re-position aircraft over Syria” to ensure the safety of pilots. The jet was downed on Sunday evening after regime forces targeted the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters battling IS.

An American F/A-18E Super Hornet shot down the Syrian SU-22 as it “dropped bombs near SDF fighters” south of the town of Tabqa, said the US-led coalition.

Russia’s defence minister said the pilot ejected “above IS-controlled territories” and that his fate was unknown.

The coalition said Syrian troops attacked SDF fighters near Tabqa, south of Raqa, wounding several and chasing them out of the town. 

It said the warplane was targeted in line with the “rules of engagement”. Damascus and its ally Moscow condemned the “aggression”. 

The Syrian army said the plane was hit while on a mission against IS jihadists and warned of “the grave consequences of this flagrant aggression”.

Published: 21-06-2017 09:46

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