Tuesday 24 April 2018

'Coalition jets over Syria are fair game,' says Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin

Josie Ensor

Russia warned yesterday that it would treat British and American jets operating in parts of Syria where its air forces are present as "targets", after US forces shot down a Syrian warplane for the first time in the six-year war.

Moscow, Syria's main ally, announced that it would start tracking jets and drones of the US-led coalition and halt an incident-prevention hotline with America, which was set up to avoid accidents in the crowded skies above Syria.

"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," Russian President Vladimir Putin's defence ministry warned.

The Syrian SU-22 fighter bomber was shot down by an American F18 Super Hornet on Sunday after it had dropped bombs near the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) north of the Isil-held city of Raqqa.

The US, which has special forces troops in the area, said it sent a warning to the Syrian military to stop targeting the forces and called on Russia to rein in its ally.

Russia denied that it was informed of the planned strike.

Moscow condemned the US action, saying it flouted international law.

"It is help to those terrorists that the US is fighting against, declaring they are carrying out an anti-terrorism policy," Sergei Ryabkov, Russia's deputy foreign minister, said, adding that it was a "dangerous escalation".

The SDF, meanwhile, warned that it would retaliate against further regime attacks on its troops - a combination of Kurds and Arabs which are leading the fight for Isil's self-styled capital Raqqa.

The Pentagon said in a statement that the coalition did "not seek to fight the Syrian regime, Russian or pro-regime forces" but will not "hesitate to defend itself or its "partnered forces from any threat".

The US-led coalition has in recent weeks escalated its aerial bombing campaign in northern Syria and Raqqa province.

On several occasions, its warplanes have also struck pro-government forces to prevent them advancing on a US-controlled garrison in south-eastern Syria.

The US military said yesterday that it was repositioning its aircraft to ensure the safety of American air crews.

British Prime Minister Theresa May downplayed any risk to Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots.

She said: "There are deconfliction arrangements in place already in relation to activity that takes place over the skies of Syria and those deconfliction arrangements will continue."

A British government spokesman added that it wanted all parties to focus on combating Isil.

The US had not shot down a Syrian regime aircraft before Sunday's confrontation, said Navy Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.

While the US has said since it began recruiting, training and advising what it calls moderate Syrian opposition forces to fight Isil that it would protect them from potential Syrian government retribution, this was the first time it resorted to engaging in air-to-air combat to make good on that promise.

America has been flexing its muscles in Syria ever since US President Donald Trump came to power, with a pledge to give more power to the Pentagon.

He strongly criticised his predecessor, Barack Obama, for his inability to resolve the Syrian civil war - even blaming Mr Obama for creating Isil. (© Daily Telegraph London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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