Rus­sia, U.S., vie in Syria’s full skies

Mid-air close calls come as ten­sions rise be­tween ri­vals

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By W.J. Hennigan

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.

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