US Deploys F-22s to Middle East to Confront Russian Aircraft Over Syria

by | Jun 15, 2023

US Deploys F-22s to Middle East to Confront Russian Aircraft Over Syria

by | Jun 15, 2023

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American F-22 in the Middle East

Washington sent F-22 Raptor fighter jets to the Middle East in a show of force eyeing Moscow, claiming Russian aircraft have behaved aggressively in the skies above Syria in recent months. The Kremlin has similarly accused US warplanes of targeting Russian aircraft in eastern Syria. 

On Wednesday, US Central Command issued a statement saying a squadron of F-22s was deployed to its area of responsibility, a region that stretches from North Africa to South Asia. The deployments show “the US’ ability to re-posture forces and deliver overwhelming power at a moment’s notice,” the press release said. 

CENTCOM commander Gen. Michael Kurilla said the show of force was directed at Moscow. “Russian Forces’ unsafe and unprofessional behavior is not what we expect from a professional air force,” he said. “Their regular violation of agreed upon airspace deconfliction measures increases the risk of escalation or miscalculation.” 

While the general did not specify any examples of dangerous flying, the new deployment comes after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin described a pattern of aggressive, risky and unsafe actions by Russian pilots this year. In March, another senior CENTCOM figure, Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, said Moscow had flown aircraft over US bases in Syria nearly every day that month, later telling Defense One they’re aggressively maneuvering, almost like they’re trying to dogfight, if you will.

Russian officials have leveled similar accusations at their US counterparts. Two weeks ago, the Kremlin complained that American aircraft flying in Syrian skies were targeting Russian planes. “The so-called ‘international coalition’ led by the United States continues to fragrantly violate the deconfliction protocols and the memorandum of understanding on air safety in Syria,” said Rear Admiral Oleg Gurinov, deputy chief of the Russian Center for Reconciliation of the Opposing Parties in Syria. “Pilots of the US Air Force are still recorded to be activating weapon systems when approaching in midair the aircraft of the Russian Aerospace Forces that fly routine sorties in eastern Syria.”

President Bashar al-Assad invited Russian troops into Syria in 2015 to prevent the country from falling to jihadist forces, after some rebel factions received heavy support from the US and its allies. Moscow has helped Damascus retake a significant portion of Syria, heavily relying on its airpower. 

The US continues to occupy about one-third of Syria with some 900 ground troops embedded with its Kurdish-led proxy militia, the Syrian Democratic Forces, and American aircraft still carry out periodic bombing raids, usually said to target al-Qaeda or the Islamic State.

CENTCOM reported nearly 40 US operations in Iraq and Syria last month. On May 3rd, the Pentagon conducted an airstrike on a village in northwest Syria, initially claiming it killed a senior member of al-Qeada. However, it was later revealed that a civilian – a local farmer with 10 children – was the sole casualty of the operation. 

Airwars, an international monitoring group, found Russia was responsible for thousands of civilian deaths in Syria, while it said Washington likely killed more than 10,000 non-combatants. 

Kyle Anzalone

Kyle Anzalone

Kyle Anzalone is news editor of the Libertarian Institute, opinion editor of Antiwar.com and co-host of Conflicts of Interest with Will Porter and Connor Freeman.

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