U.S officials aren’t backing down from Russian threats after a U.S. fighter jet shot down a Syrian warplane this weekend, telling reporters that “we will not hesitate to defend ourselves” from Russian forces in the Syrian conflict.
On Sunday a U.S. F-18 Super Hornet shot down a Syrian SU-22 after Pentagon officials say the Syrian plane dropped bombs on Syrian Democratic Forces operating near U.S. partner forces fighting ISIS. Sunday’s incident is the first time in nearly 20 years that a U.S. plane has taken down another fighter in air-to-air combat.
Russian officials responded yesterday, warning that any airborne objects west of the Euphrates River would be tracked by Russian ground and air defenses as targets.
Today Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that the strike proves America’s “open complicity” with terrorists, telling Russian news agencies, “In the case of strikes [by US forces on the aircraft and drone of the Syrian Armed Forces], we are dealing with an open complicity with the terrorists operating on Syrian soil.”
“What is this, if not an act of aggression,” he asked.
U.S. officials maintain that they acted in self-defense. Capt. Jeff Davis told Fox News that while “we do not seek conflict with any party in Syria other than ISIS… we will not hesitate to defend ourselves or our partners if threatened.”
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford reiterated Davis’s stance during a speech at the National Press Club on Monday.
“I’m confident that we are still communicating between our operations center and the Russia federation operations center — and I’m also confident that our forces have the capability to take care of themselves,” Dunford said.
Dunford’s statement proved prophetic earlier today as U.S. forces shot down an armed pro-Syrian drone that advanced on coalition forces.
“The armed pro-regime Shaheed-129 UAV was shot down by a U.S. F-15E Strike Eagle at approximately 12:30 a.m. after it displayed hostile intent and advanced on coalition forces,” according to a statement issued by Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS.
The coalition “has made it clear to all parties publicly and through the deconfliction line with Russian forces that the demonstrated hostile intent and actions of pro-regime forces toward coalition and partner forces in Syria conducting legitimate counter-ISIS operations will not be tolerated.”
The U.S. is also taking precautionary measures in order to continue its fight against ISIS in Syria.
“As a result of recent encounters involving pro-Syrian Regime and Russian forces, we have taken prudent measures to re-position aircraft over Syria so as to continue targeting ISIS forces while ensuring the safety of our aircrew given known threats in the battlespace,” Department of Defense spokesperson Maj. Adrian J.T. Rankine-Galloway said in a statement.
In addition to the Syrian warplane, U.S. forces also shot down another Syrian drone earlier this month.