Two weeks ago I wondered if heightened Pentagon rhetoric about “unsafe Russian flying practices” in Syria was to prepare the media for a possible shoot down of a Russian plane by the US. Now the US has moved on to openly threatening to do so.
Recall, on November 24th CNN ran an article whereby according to unnamed officials poor US pilots were being “subjected to unsafe Russian flying practices”. This followed a report a week earlier where an unidentified Pentagon officer spoke about “threatening” and “potentially threatening” Russian aircraft and their “increasingly alarming behavior” (which later in the article simply turned out to be Russians flying in weapons range of US assets on the ground).
.@USAFCENT: Russian/Syrian aircraft crossed deconfliction line into coalition airspace east of the Euphrates River 6-8 times a day in late November, "the greatest concern is that we could shoot down a Russian aircraft because its actions are seen as a threat" to coalition forces
— Ryan Browne (@rabrowne75) December 9, 2017
Now the Pentagon has graduated to openly raising the prospect of shooting down a Russian warplane directly through its spokespeople. Colonel Damien Pickart, the spokesman for US Air Forces Central Command, said yesterday the US military has “the greatest concern” it could “shoot down a Russian warplane because its actions are seen as a threat” — in other words if they cross into “coalition airspace” in eastern Syria. Yes, bizarrely the Pentagon refers to Syria to the east of the Euphrates as “our airspace”:
“We saw anywhere from six to eight incidents daily in late November, where Russian or Syrian aircraft crossed into our airspace on the east side of the Euphrates River,” Pickart said.
The US claims it can not honestly know if Russian aircraft are crossing the river by “mistake” or because they mean to attack “coalition forces”, and that therefore US fighters could already have legitimately shot them down in “self-defense”:
The Air Force pilots showed restraint, but given that the actions of the Su-24 could have reasonably been interpreted as threatening to the American aircraft, the F-22 pilots would have been with their rights to fire in self-defense, officials at the Qatar air base said.
This is pure nonsense. This is not about any fear of Russian attack, but about turf.
Firstly a Su-24 is ground attack jet, and would not be used to attack other warplanes. More importantly, the Russians revealed last week that they had already carried out over 600 combat sorties to target ISIS to the east of the river in support of the usually US-backed YPG Kurdish militias. The YPG has in turn hailed the Russian air cover.* The Americans know full well that Russians are not crossing the river to attack them or their proxies. On the contrary, they’re there to back the same faction the US is backing, but Pentagon wants a monopoly on that, and on the territory that comes with it.
Additionally, while the Pentagon complains about a number of incidents in which the US and Russian aircraft supposedly nearly collided due to Russians flying on the “wrong” side of the river, the Russian Ministry of Defense has said that US fighters have already simulated an attack on Russian ground attack jets:
“On November 23, in the air above the western bank of the Euphrates River, a U.S. F-22 fighter hindered actively Russia’s two Sukhoi-24 attackers in fulfilling their combat tasks to destroy a command station of the Islamic State near Mayadin,” spokesman of the Russian Defense Ministry Igor Konashenkov said.
“The F-22 fired heat flares and released braking flaps, constantly maneuvering, to simulate a dogfight.”
The F-22 Raptor “halted dangerous maneuvers and hurried away into Iraq’s air space” after the Russian Su-35S highly maneuverable aircraft appeared nearby, Konashenkov said.
So who is actually doing the threatening here? The Russians who are crossing the river to help the US-backed YPG, or the US which simulates attacks on Russian aircraft?
But don’t worry, if the US does shoot down a Russian plane it will be the Russians fault for either flying over the US-allied Kurdish forces that they’re helping:
Other Russian planes have flown within striking distance or directly over allied ground forces for up to 30 minutes, escalating tensions and the risk of a shootdown, American officials said.
Or else for “baiting” the Americans into shooting them down:
“It’s become increasingly tough for our pilots to discern whether Russian pilots are deliberately testing or baiting us into reacting, or if these are just honest mistakes,” said Lt. Col. Damien Pickart, the command’s spokesman.
You see, those Russians want to be shot down, and nothing is ever America’s fault. (Recall that according to neocon revisionism Saddam pretended to have WMDs to bait the US into invading him.)
The US Air Force has already shot down a Syrian Su-22 over central Syria, bombed the Syrian army on three separate occasions in southern Syria killing about a dozen Syrian soldiers, and bombed the Syrian army in the ISIS-encircled city of Deir Ezzor killing 100 supposedly by mistake, but most likely in a calculated move to sabotage the Lavrov-Kerry deal of September 2016 which envisaged the US and Russia working more closely together.
*Albeit a release by the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) umbrella group that the US helped set up in late 2015 to help sell the Communist Kurdish YPG then bizarrely contradicted the YPG release.