Russia Cuts Incident Prevention Hotline With US in Syria

Warns that US aircraft will be treated as targets
June 19, 2017 Updated: June 19, 2017

Russia’s ministry of defense has halted its incident prevention hotline with the U.S. in response to the United States shooting down a Syrian jet on Sunday, according to AFP.

Russia also said that it will treat any U.S.-led coalition aircraft in Syria, west of the Euphrates river, as targets, the Associated Press reports. The ministry said it will track all U.S. planes and drones starting Monday.

The U.S. military confirmed that one of its F-18 Super Hornets shot down a Syrian SU-22 jet in the southern Raqqa countryside after it dropped bombs on forces allied with the U.S. The allied troops, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, are working together with U.S. military in the fight against the ISIS terrorist group.

U.S. Central Command later issued a statement saying the Syrian plane was downed “in collective self-defense of Coalition-partnered forces,” identified as fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) near Tabqah.

It said that “pro-Syrian regime forces” had earlier attacked an SDF-held town south of Tabqa and wounded a number of fighters, driving them from the town.

Before it downed the plane, the coalition had “contacted its Russian counterparts by telephone via an established “de-confliction line” to de-escalate the situation and stop the firing.”

The coalition does “not seek to fight the Syrian regime, Russian or pro-regime forces” but would not “hesitate to defend itself or its “partnered forces from any threat,” the statement said.

A Syrian army statement released on Syrian state television said the plane crashed and the pilot was missing in the first such downing of a Syrian jet by the United States since the start of the conflict in 2011.

The army statement said it took place on Sunday afternoon near a village called Rasafah.

The “flagrant attack was an attempt to undermine the efforts of the army as the only effective force capable with its allies … in fighting terrorism across its territory,” the Syrian army said.

Russia, which has supported Syria’s president Bashar Assad and provided air cover for his offensive against ISIS since 2015, condemned the action on Monday.

“What is this, if not an act of aggression?” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Russian news agencies Monday.

The Russian defense ministry also asked the U.S. to provide a full account of why it shot down the Syrian jet.

The U.S.-led coalition has in recent weeks escalated its aerial bombing campaign in northern Syria and Raqqa province. U.S.-backed forces have encircled the city of Raqqa and captured several districts from ISIS.

The Syrian army, which has been taking territory from retreating ISIS fighters in the eastern Aleppo countryside, has moved into Raqqa province and seized back some oil fields and villages that had been under ISIS control for almost three years.

An SDF official told Reuters the Syrian army had been engaged in skirmishes in recent days with U.S.-backed forces near the town of Maskaneh close to the borders of Raqqa province, much of which is now held by U.S.-backed groups fighting Islamic State.

The Syrian army backed by Iranian-backed militias has also been in competition in southeastern Syria with U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels who are also trying to recapture territory from ISIS.

On several occasions in recent weeks, warplanes of the U.S.-led coalition have also struck pro-government forces to prevent them advancing from a U.S.-controlled garrison in southeastern Syria at a spot where the country’s borders join with Iraq and Jordan.

Washington also described those strikes as self-defense.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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