The United States has accused Russian fighter jets of flying dangerously close to several of its drones over Syria, setting off flares and forcing the MQ-9 Reapers to take evasive action.
US Air Forces Central released a video of Wednesday’s encounter, showing a Russian SU-35 fighter closing in on the drone.
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Footage showed the Russian pilot positioning his aircraft in front of the Reaper and turning on the afterburner, dramatically increasing speed and air pressure and making it harder to operate the drone, the air force said in comments accompanying the video.
So-called parachute flares were also released.
“The Russian SU-35 fighter aircraft employed parachute flares in the flight path of US MQ-9 aircraft,” the air force said. “Against established norms and protocols, this forced US aircraft to conduct evasive manoeuvres.”
Three US drones were airborne at the time of the incident on Wednesday morning, Lieutenant General Alexus Grynkewich, the commander of the Ninth Air Force in the Middle East, said in a statement.
He accused the Russian aircraft of “harassing the drones”, which he said were engaged in a mission against ISIL (ISIS).
“Russian military aircraft engaged in unsafe and unprofessional behaviour while interacting with US aircraft in Syria,” he said, adding that the actions threatened the safety not only of US forces but also Russian forces.
Army General Erik Kurilla, head of US Central Command, added that Russia’s violation of ongoing efforts to clear the airspace over Syria “increases the risk of escalation or miscalculation”.
About 900 US forces are deployed to Syria to work with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces against ISIL. No other details about the drone operation were released, and the statements did not reveal where the incidents took place.