Pentagon: US Aircraft Avoid Collisions with Russian Jets over Syria

U.S. Navy airplane in Turkey
U.S. Navy airplane in Turkey / AP

The Pentagon said Wednesday that U.S. aircraft have been forced to reroute in order to avoid collisions with Russian planes over Syria.

The Hill reported that U.S. officials said American aircraft had to change course at least one time for this reason in the last week after Russia began its air campaign in Syria last Wednesday.

"We have taken some actions to ensure the safe separation of aircraft, but we do continue to fly missions over Iraq and Syria in support of this mission to degrade and destroy [the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria]," Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said.

Russian planes have reportedly flown within 20 miles of U.S. aircraft. Furthermore, Russian fighter jets have shadowed U.S. predator drones at least three times since Russian began the bomb campaign in Syria, according to two U.S. officials.

Meanwhile, Russia on Wednesday launched cruise missiles into Syria from the Caspian Sea that traveled through Iraqi airspace, thereby threatening U.S. aircraft over Iraq as well. Russia also invaded Turkey’s airspace twice over the weekend, according to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Russia has been launching airstrikes in Syria for a week, mostly targeting areas not controlled by the Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIL or ISIS) despite Moscow’s insistence that its military activity in Syria is meant to help President Bashar al-Assad combat the terrorist group.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Wednesday that the U.S. is not cooperating with Russia in its campaign against IS but that the U.S. will conduct basic, technical talks with Russia on its operations in Syria to ensure the safety of Moscow’s flights over the region.

U.S. and Russian officials conferenced over video last week before Russia began the airstrikes but have not met since. According to Davis, the first meeting broached a U.S. proposal to avoid airspace confrontations.

"We do continue to maintain a high level of situational awareness," Davis said. "We do that through a variety of means where we are knowing what is out there in our battle space in which we operate."

U.S. officials believe that Russia has been deliberately targeting CIA-backed Syrian rebels with airstrikes in Syria as a means to directly challenge the Obama administration’s Syria policy.