U.S. jets scramble to es­cort Rus­sian planes from Alaskan coast.

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY GUY TAY­LOR AND CARLO MUNOZ

U.S. mil­i­tary of­fi­cials said a pair of Amer­i­can fighter jets in­ter­cepted and es­corted two Rus­sian bombers away from Alaska’s coast­line dur­ing a high-stakes en­counter in in­ter­na­tional airspace Mon­day.

While the in­ci­dent comes with in­creased po­lit­i­cal ten­sion be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Moscow, U.S. Navy Com­man­der Gary Ross, a Pen­tagon spokesman, said Tues­day that the “in­ter­cept was safe and pro­fes­sional.”

U.S. of­fi­cials told re­porters that the two Rus­sian TU-95 Bear bombers — ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing nu­clear weapons but ap­par­ently un­armed — veered within 100 miles of Alaska’s Ko­diak Is­land on Mon­day night be­fore a pair of U.S. F-22 Rap­tor fighter air­craft in­ter­vened.

The U.S. F-22s then flew be­side the TU-95s for roughly 12 min­utes be­fore the Rus­sian bombers turned back to­ward east­ern Rus­sia, the of­fi­cials said.

The Pen­tagon also scram­bled an E-3 air­borne early warn­ing plane as part of the in­ter­cep­tion. Rus­sian bombers had re­port­edly flew roughly 280 miles south­west of the El­men­dorf U.S. Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska.

The in­cur­sion comes as U.S. forces con­tinue joint op­er­a­tions with east­ern Euro­pean al­lies near the Rus­sian bor­der, as part of the NATO-led oper­a­tion At­lantic Re­solve.

There was no ra­dio con­tact be­tween the Air Force pi­lots and the air­crews aboard the Bear bombers, since the Amer­i­can fight­ers were de­ployed only to get vis­ual con­fir­ma­tion of the Rus­sian war­planes, North Amer­i­can Aero­space De­fense Com­mand spokes­woman Capt. Ash­leigh Peck said. At no time did the Rus­sian air­craft pen­e­trate the 200-nau­ti­cal mile air de­fense zone sep­a­rat­ing Amer­i­can and in­ter­na­tional airspace, Capt. Peck told The Wash­ing­ton Times on Tues­day.

She would not com­ment on whether the bombers in­ten­tion­ally at­tempted to en­ter U.S. airspace or if they sim­ply drifted off course. How­ever, it is far from the first time Rus­sian air­craft have en­tered the U.S. air de­fense zone near Alaska.

Rus­sian planes have en­tered into the de­fense zone 60 times since 2007, with the last in­ci­dent tak­ing place in 2015, Capt. Peck said.

“Not that it hap­pens ev­ery day, but it is not un­com­mon,” she added.

Lt. Gen. Ken­neth Wils­bach, head of both the Alaskan Com­mand and the Alaska NORAD Re­gion, told the Anchorage Daily News Tues­day that the de­tec­tion and in­ter­cept of the TU-95 Bear bombers took place over the course of about two hours from 6 to 8 p.m. Mon­day.

“I can’t go into all of the de­tails on how we de­tected them, but we did de­tect them,” Lt. Gen. Wils­bach told the news­pa­per. “We were track­ing them ba­si­cally par­al­lel­ing the Aleu­tian Is­lands roughly 100 miles to the south.”

Rus­sian bombers have car­ried out provoca­tive flights near the U.S. coast­line on var­i­ous oc­ca­sions dur­ing re­cent years — most re­cently ap­pear­ing off Alaska and California in July 2015.

In Fe­bru­ary of this year, mean­while, a Rus­sian spy ship briefly ap­peared in in­ter­na­tional waters about 30 miles off the coast of Con­necti­cut.

Rus­sian war­planes have also re­peat­edly con­ducted high-speed, low-al­ti­tude passes above U.S. war­ships in the Baltic Sea over the last two years.

But Mon­day’s in­ci­dent marked the clos­est in­cur­sion to­ward U.S. airspace by Rus­sian bombers since Pres­i­dent Trump took of­fice. It also came just weeks af­ter Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son de­scribed U.S.-Rus­sian re­la­tions as at a “low point.”

Mr. Tiller­son more re­cently made a diplo­matic visit to Moscow amid an es­ca­la­tion in U.S.-Rus­sian ten­sions over the civil war rag­ing in Syria.

The sec­re­tary of state and other Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials have said Rus­sian forces were com­plicit in a chem­i­cal weapons at­tack that Wash­ing­ton says was car­ried out in early-April by forces loyal to Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad, who’s backed by Moscow. The Krem­lin has an­grily de­nied the charge and ques­tioned that ev­i­dence that Mr. As­sad’s forces were re­spon­si­ble for the chem­i­cal weapons strike.

Pres­i­dent Trump re­sponded to the at­tack by au­tho­riz­ing a round of puni­tive missile strikes against a Syr­ian mil­i­tary airstrip on April 4.

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