US AFCENT to Enab Baladi: Russia carrying out “aggressive” maneuvers in Syria
Since the Russian intervention in Syria to support the regime in 2015, which was preceded by the American intervention to fight the Islamic State, the two superpowers have coordinated to prevent a clash resulting from mistakes in Syria, but this coordination has witnessed repeated violations since the beginning of the year.
The most recent of these breaches were reported by media outlets on the authority of US military officials, whom they did not name, about Russia stopping coordination protocols with the United States in Syria.
Teresa L. Sullivan, Public Affairs Officer in the United States Air Force Central (AFCENT), told Enab Baladi that the US-led International Coalition forces and the Russian forces in Syria have well-established and agreed-upon protocols to prevent conflicts between the two sides’ operations.
These protocols outline procedures to reduce the risk of miscalculation or misunderstanding while operating in a combat zone and in proximity to each other.
Sullivan, the National Security Strategic Communications Consultant in the NCR, added that adherence to these protocols in the air allowed the commitment to pursue the common enemy of Russia and the US, which is the Islamic State group, and reduced the risk of near-misses or dangerous interaction between the forces of the two parties.
AFCENT’s Public Affairs Officer told Enab Baladi that the US Air Force pilots continue to adhere to these agreed-upon protocols, but the Russian military recently departed from the standards expected of a professional Air Force, choosing instead to deliberately violate these agreements.
Russian aircraft have been operating in Syria for some time in an “unsafe and unprofessional” manner, according to Sullivan, who considered that Russia intends to carry out “aggressive maneuvers” and to commit non-deconflicted incursions into the areas of US army operations with increasing frequency.
When this type of Russian maneuver occurs in the area, the US Air Force uses radar and other on-board systems and sensors to avoid collision and maintain awareness of Russian aircraft flying nearby, Sullivan said.
She added that the US forces maintain a de-escalatory posture to not activate or cue any weapons to Russian aircraft.
Over the past years, many countries active in the Syrian file, most notably Russia, have tried to press for the withdrawal of US forces from Syria in various ways, including in the form of threats and others carried by Iranian missiles, including military maneuvers described as “unsafe.”
This is not the first time Syria has witnessed a dispute over safety protocols between the United States and Russia, as the latter has escalated its moves, which the US described as “unsafe,” since the beginning of this year.
The US military has previously protested the massive flight of Russian aircraft over US bases in Syria, which violates a four-year agreement between the two parties and threatens escalation, according to the US Department of Defense.
Lt. Gen. Alexus G. Grynkewich, a commander for US Central Command’s Air Force, stated on March 23 that “Russian jets flew over the two US bases in Syria – al-Tanf military base in the southeastern countryside region of Homs and al-Omar field – approximately 25 times in March, as opposed to zero times in February and 14 times in January, according to Jusoor Center for Studies.
The Russian flight over the base is low, at a distance of about 1.6 kilometers from the ground.
“So, it’s an uncomfortable situation,” Grynkewich told American news outlets, adding that this could impact counter-terrorism efforts in Syria.
Despite the US military’s use of the deconfliction line with the Russians to protest against this overflight, the Russians’ behavior did not change, stressing that they did not recognize that the airspace over the al-Tanf garrison was US airspace, according to Grynkewich.
US Army in Syria
The US forces deployed for the first time in Syria during the campaign of former US President Barack Obama’s administration against the Islamic State group, in 2014, in alliance with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
With the constant change in the number of US military personnel in Syria, the United States has maintained 900 of its soldiers in Syria, most of them in the northeast, as the latest announced official number.
Iran-backed militias, including the Lebanese Hezbollah and Iraqi groups, control locations in eastern, southern, and northern Syria and in the suburbs surrounding the capital, Damascus.
The US has many military bases in northeastern Syria, the largest of which is known as the al-Omar oil field base in the eastern Deir Ezzor governorate.
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