Friday, June 30, 2017

As US downs Assad aircraft tensions with Russia in Syria increase

(June 20)Russia has said that it will now consider US warplanes operating in parts of Syria where its forces are also present as "targets" after the U.S. downed a Syrian jet.

The Russian defence ministry said it would track U.S.-led coalition aircraft with missile systems and military aircraft although the statement did not say that they would shoot the aircraft down. The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) has announced that it is suspending flights in Syria as a precaution. In a statement the Russian Defence Ministry said: “All kinds of airborne vehicles, including aircraft and UAVs of the international coalition detected to the west of the Euphrates River will be tracked by the Russian SAM systems as air targets.” On Sunday a US F-18 Super Hornet shot down a Syrian SU-22 jet in the countryside west of the city of Raqqa. This is the first ever downing of a Syrian jet by the U.S. since the civil war began in 2011. While the Assad government said the plane was on a mission against Islamic State militants, the U.S. claimed it dropped bombs near U.S. forces. Astonishingly, the U.S. apparently did not use the hotline with Russia ahead of downing the plane. The Russian ministry accused the U.S. of a "deliberate failure to make good on its commitments" under the deconfliction deal between the two forces.
The Russian statement applies only to coalition flights west of the Euphrates. Flights in areas east if the Euphrates will not be targeted. The U.S. can probably target the IS held city of Raqqa and other areas held by the IS east of the Euphrates. Perhaps the U.S. will also continue flights west of the Euphrates but will think twice before trying to shoot down any more Syrian planes or Russian planes either.
When asked about the downing, White House Secretary Sean Spicer said that that U.S. wanted to keep an open line of communication with the Russians. However he did not explain why it did not use such a communication line before shooting down the plane. Spicer said: "The escalation of hostilities among all of the factions that are operating there doesn't help anybody. And so making sure that people understand while we want to de-escalate the situation there, that we have to understand that we will always preserve the right of self-defense." An ABC news report said that the Syrian plane actually dropped bombs on rebel forces fighting the Islamic State rather than just near them. Even if this were the case the plane could have been alerted to what it was doing and demands made that it stop rather than shooting it down. As well, the rebels are an enemy of Assad. If anyone could bring up self defense as a reason for what they were doing it was the Syrian plane rather than the U.S. plane. The Russian Defense Ministry said: "Repeated combat actions by U.S. aviation under the cover of counter-terrorism against lawful armed forces of a country that is a member of the U.N. are a massive violation of international law and de facto a military aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic."
Lt. Colonel Damien Pickart, a spokesperson for the U.S. Air Forces Central Command said: "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."
According to an ABC report the downing happened over the town of Ja Din, south of the town of Tabqa recently retaken from the Islamic State by the Syrian Democratic Forces an umbrella group of mostly Kurdish but also Arab fighters. The SDF came under attack in Ja DIn by Assad forces while overhead U.S. fighter jets flew overhead firing warning shots that turned back the advance of the Assad forces. A statement from Operation Inherent Resolve said:"Following the pro-Syrian forces' attack, the coalition contacted its Russian counterparts by telephone via an established deconfliction line to de-escalate the situation and stop the firing. At 6:43 p.m., a Syrian regime SU-22 dropped bombs near SDF fighters south of Tabqah and, in accordance with rules of engagement and in collective self-defense of coalition partnered forces, was immediately shot down by a U.S. F/A-18E Super Hornet."Note that the official statement does not say the bombs were dropped on the SDF fighters but near them! Whereas earlier in its report ABC had said it was on them. ABC makes the same incorrect claim on the appended video. The Syrian pilot of the downed jet was able to eject and was rescued later by Assad troops.
The Russian Defense Ministry claims that the air-safety hotline was not used and also noted that there were also Russian aircraft in the area when the plane went down. It may be that the hotline was used to warn the Assad forces advancing on the town of Ja Din but not to warn the pilot of the jet that was shot down which appears to have happened later. A U.S.-led coalition statement said: "The coalition does not seek to fight Syrian regime, Russian or pro-regime forces partnered with them but will not hesitate to defend coalition or partner forces from any threat.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." If the U.S. seeks to defend rebel forces that it supports by that very fact it is bound to fight the Syrian regime whenever the regime comes into conflict with those forces. Such a stance inevitably will lead the U.S. into more conflict with the Assad regime and with Russia.
The U.S. believes it has the right to occupy a part of Syria and demands that a de-confliction zone around the town of Tanf in southwest Syria where there is a coalition training base for forces fighting the Islamic State not be entered by Syrian government forces. In the last few weeks the U.S. has mounted three air strikes on Assad forces when they tried to enter the area. The U.S. is becoming ever more involved in the war in Syria. As the Islamic State holds less and less territory conflicts of the U.S.-led coalition with the Assad regime, Russians, Iranians and Hezbollah are ever more likely.

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