BEIRUT — In a series of escalating incidents, Russian fighter jets have been repeatedly harassing American drones over Syria, according to the U.S. military. The encounter on Friday marked the third consecutive day of such incidents, with Russian aircraft engaging in unprofessional behavior and flying dangerously close to the MQ-9 drones.
Tensions between Russian and U.S. troops have been a recurring issue in Syria, as both nations carry out patrols and overflights in the region. The ongoing conflict in Syria, which has spanned 12 years, has resulted in the deaths of half a million people and over a million wounded.
The U.S. military released a statement expressing concern over the recent encounters, revealing that the MQ-9 drones had to react to avoid unsafe situations caused by 18 unprofessional close passes from Russian aircraft. Lt. Gen. Alex Grynkewich, head of U.S. Air Forces Central Command, emphasized the need for Russia to adhere to professional conduct and for both countries to focus on the enduring defeat of ISIS.
Earlier in the week, Rear Adm. Oleg Gurinov, head of the Russian Reconciliation Center for Syria, stated that Russia and Syria were engaged in a joint six-day training exercise. Gurinov voiced Moscow’s concerns regarding the flights of drones by the U.S.-led coalition over northern Syria, viewing them as systematic violations of established protocols aimed at preventing clashes between the two militaries.
The first incident occurred on Wednesday, when Russian military aircraft engaged in unsafe behavior while the U.S. MQ-9 drones were carrying out a mission against the Islamic State group. The following day, Russian fighter aircraft once again flew unsafely and unprofessionally, targeting both French and U.S. aircraft over Syria.
The U.S. and France are part of an international coalition fighting against the Islamic State, which previously held significant territories in Syria and Iraq. Despite the group’s territorial losses, they continue to carry out deadly attacks in both countries.
Meanwhile, a drone strike conducted by the U.S.-led coalition on Friday resulted in the death of a man riding a motorcycle in northern Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights identified the individual as an IS militant.
Russia has been involved in Syria’s conflict since September 2015, aiding Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces and helping to tip the balance of power in their favor. Russian warplanes continue to launch attacks on the last major rebel stronghold in northwest Syria.
The U.S. maintains a presence of at least 900 troops in Syria, alongside undisclosed numbers of contractors who work alongside the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.
While the U.S. military encourages Russia to adhere to professional norms and focus on the fight against ISIS, Rear Adm. Gurinov warned that the increased frequency of uncoordinated flights by the coalition’s drones could lead to further escalation, stating that Russia cannot be held responsible for their safety.