A senior army official branded the incident “unsafe and unprofessional”.
The U.S. military released dramatic video of a tense encounter in the skies over eastern Syria on Wednesday as Russian warplanes were seen “harassing” three U.S. military drones on a mission against the Islamic State group, an official said.
In a statement, the top US Air Force general in the Middle East labeled the run-in “unsafe and unprofessional conduct” and called on Russia to end what he called “irresponsible behavior” by pilots flying over eastern Syria. The US still has 900 troops on counter-terrorism operations.
The behavior is “threatening[s] Defense of American and Russian forces,” he said.
Wednesday’s incident was the latest in a string of dozens of what officials describe as provocative Russian planes over eastern Syria, prompting the United States to send F-22 Raptors to intercept the flights over U.S. military bases.
Multiple cameras and sensors on three MQ-9 Reaper drones captured in vivid detail Wednesday how Russian Su-35 jets dropped parachute flares in the path of the drones and how one jet used its afterburners in front of one of the drones.
A quick declassification of video capturing the encounter recalled the release of a similar video in March to show a similar harassment of an MQ-9 pilot flying in international airspace over the Black Sea, resulting in a collision, officials said.
Lt. Gen. Alex Grinkevich, commander of the Ninth Air Force and commander of the combined forces air component for US Central Command, said in a statement that Russia initiated the conflict.
“Against established norms and protocols, Russian jets dropped multiple parachute flares in front of the drones, forcing our aircraft to conduct evasive maneuvers,” Krinkevich said.
“Additionally, a Russian pilot positioned their aircraft in front of the MQ-9 and engaged the back burner, reducing the operator’s ability to operate the aircraft safely,” he said.
“We call on Russian forces in Syria to cease this reckless behavior and adhere to the standards of conduct expected of a professional air force, so we can resume our focus on the lasting defeat of ISIS.”
In mid-June, CENTCOM announced it was sending F-22 Raptors to the Middle East to intercept Russian aircraft above US bases in eastern Syria.
“The unsafe and unprofessional behavior of Russian forces is not what we expect from a professional air force. Their routine violation of agreed airspace deterrence measures increases the risk of escalation or miscalculations,” said Gen. Michael “Eric” Gurrilla, head of CENTCOM. After. “Working with our partners and allies, we are committed to promoting security and stability in the region.”
Defense officials have said there have been dozens of incidents in recent months in which Russian jets have overrun U.S. bases without using a security line that has been in use for years to prevent miscalculations.