On Monday, a spokesperson for the Pentagon said that U.S. pilots operating over Syria won’t hesitate to defend themselves from Russian threats. This is the latest in the escalation between the U.S. and Russia since a U.S. jet shot down a Syrian aircraft on Sunday.
“We do not seek conflict with any party in Syria other than ISIS, but we will not hesitate to defend ourselves or our partners if threatened,” Capt. Jeff Davis said.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford made a firm stance on that rhetoric 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.
Department of Defense spokesperson Maj. Adrian J.T. Rankine-Galloway said coalition aircraft would resume “operations throughout Syria, targeting ISIS forces and providing air support for Coalition partner forces on the ground.”
“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,” Rankine-Galloway said in a statement.
Earlier Monday, Russian officials threatened to treat U.S.-led coalition planes flying in Syria, west of the Euphrates River, as targets.
The news came one day after the first time in history a U.S. jet shot down a Syrian plane – and the first time in 18 years that the U.S. has shot down any warplane in air-to-air combat.
The last time a U.S. jet had shot down another country’s aircraft came over Kosovo in 1999 when a U.S. Air Force F-15 Eagle shot down a Serbian MiG-29.
On Sunday, it was a U.S. F-18 Super Hornet that shot down a Syrian SU-22 after that jet dropped bombs near U.S. partner forces taking on ISIS.
The United States and Russia have an agreement that would prevent in-the-air incidents involving U.S. and Russian jets engaged in operations over Syria.
The Russian defense ministry said it viewed the incident as Washington’s “deliberate failure to make good on its commitments” under the de-confliction deal.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, in comments to Russian news agencies, compared the downing to “helping the terrorists that the U.S. is fighting against.”
“What is this, if not an act of aggression?” he asked.
The U.S.-backed opposition fighters said Assad’s forces have been attacking their positions in the northern province of Raqqa and warned that if such attacks continue, the fighters will take action.