Two U.S. officials briefed on intelligence from Syria revealed that Russian jets have shadowed U.S. predator drones above Syria on at least three separate occasions since Russia began its air campaign, and forced U.S. aircraft to change their flight path.
Russian shadowing of U.S. drones happened repeatedly, making it clear to observers that it was not just a mistake, but was an intentional act by the Russians.
In addition to the tailing of U.S. drones, Russian jets forced two U.S. aircraft to change their flight paths in order to avoid a collision, U.S. Navy Captain Jeff Davis told reporters.
The two planes were F-16s that had departed from Turkey’s Incirlik air base. The planes were flying towards the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa, a senior defense official told CNN. The U.S. aircraft that diverted were not able to complete their mission, the official said.
In addition to Russian aircraft, there are now Russian ground forces and rocket launchers posed in strike mode in Syria.
The bulk of the Russian fighting forces and material are forming a belt around the Syrian city of Latakia, Bashar al Asaad’s stronghold, giving credence to the claim that Putin’s military forces in the Middle East are there to protect the long-embattled Syrian president, as much as they are there to provide additional forces to the anti-ISIS coalition.
U.S. forces are not the only ones complaining of Russian bullying.
Last weekend Turkey charged Russia with violating its airspace on two separate occasions. Turkish officials called Russia’s daring “unprofessional” and a “provocation.” NATO officials warned Russia to stay away from Turkey, which is a member of the western alliance.
“It’s unacceptable, it’s dangerous, and it’s reckless behavior and it adds to the tensions,” NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told CNN about the incursions into Turkish airspace.
“We see the violation of the Turkish airspace becomes more important, more dangerous, because it happens in a context where we see more fighting, more Russian military presence in Syria.”
Whether NATO will come to its member’s aid if Russia becomes entangled in a military dispute with Turkey is yet another question in the long list of unknowns surrounding the escalating turmoil in the Middle East.