Russia, U.S., vie in Syria’s full skies
Mid-air close calls come as tensions rise between rivals
U.S. and Russian aircraft have flown dangerously close several times in the skies over northwest Syria, according to U.S. officials, as the air war has intensified in recent weeks.
Lt. Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian, the U.S. Air Force commander in the Middle East, said Friday that warplanes had unintended close calls as they headed to or from bombing targets near the Turkish border.
“It’s a compressed environment for us all to operate in,” Harrigian said. “You have to be out there with your head on a swivel.”
On Oct. 17, a Russian fighter jet and a U.S. warplane on night operations passed each other less than a half-mile apart, Harrigan said.
It was close enough that the U.S. pilot felt the turbulence from the unintentional flyby, he said.
Russian officials later told the U.S. military air operations center in Qatar that their pilot did not see the American plane on his radar, Harrigian said.
The mid-air incidents come as tensions between Washington and Moscow have escalated over Syria.
The two nations traded accusations this week after airstrikes hit a school in the rebel-held village of Hass in Idlib province, killing 20 children.
Idlib is targeted by Syrian and Russian airstrikes, as well as the U.S.-led coalition hitting Islamic State positions.