Russia warned that it might fire on American aircraft in Syria after a U.S. Air Force F-18 Super Hornet shot down a Russian-built government fighter that allegedly bombed troops from the U.S.-led rebel coalition.
The clash on Sunday was reminiscent of the proxy wars the two superpowers engaged in during the Cold War. The rare, air-to-air kill is believed to be the first by a U.S. aircraft since the war in Kosovo in 1999.
"Any aircraft, including planes and drones belonging to the international coalition operating west of the Euphrates river, will be tracked by Russian anti-aircraft forces in the sky and on the ground and treated as targets," the Russian defense ministry said.
Russia, Syria's main ally, said it was also halting communications with the U.S. that are aimed at preventing such air incidents.
Russia backs the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad and the United States supports anti-Assad rebels. Russia and the United States have made fitful attempts to coordinate against a common enemy, the so-called Islamic State radical group.
Syrian Situation Increasingly Sticky
The one-sided dogfight on Sunday drove the biggest wedge yet between the Kremlin and Washington during the five-year-old civil war in Syria, where millions of noncombatants have been uprooted. Assad’s troops have been accused of using chemical weapons, and the United States has also been blamed for attacking noncombatants.
The Boeing Co BA F-18 engaged and shot down a Syrian air force SU-22 fighter after it dropped bombs near the U.S.-led coalition forces, the Pentagon said in a statement.
It said pro-Syrian regime forces attacked the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces-held town of Ja'Din, south of Tabqah in northern Syria, wounding a number of rebel fighters and driving them from the town.
The Pentagon said coalition aircraft conducted a show of force and stopped the initial pro-regime advance toward the town, the Pentagon said. Following the pro-Syrian forces attack, the coalition called its Russian counterparts "to de-escalate the situation and stop the firing," according to the statement.
A few hours later, the Syrian SU-22 dropped bombs near SDF fighters and, "in collective self-defense of coalition-partnered forces," was immediately shot down by a U.S. F/A-18E Super Hornet, the Pentagon said.
"The coalition's mission is to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria," the Pentagon said, using an abbreviation for the Islamic State group. "The coalition does not seek to fight Syrian regime, Russian or pro-regime forces partnered with them, but will not hesitate to defend coalition or partner forces from any threat."
Russia, Syria Say ISIS Was Targeted
Both Russia and Syria say the warplane was on a mission against Islamic State when it was fired on. The Syrian army said the skirmish would have “dangerous repercussions.”
Russia said in its statement that the Syrian pilot had ejected over Islamic State-controlled territory and "his fate remains unknown.”
Aerial dogfights have all but disappeared from modern warfare.
"The era of dogfighting is largely over," Justin Bronk, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, told the BBC.
"After the totally lopsided kill-to-loss ratio attained by the US Air Force and US Navy during the First Gulf War (in 1991), it is a very rare thing for regimes under attack by the US and its allies to send fighters up in defence — since they know how it will end."
Related link: Raytheon, Maker Of Tomahawk Cruise Missile, Up After Syria Strike _________ Image Credit: "A U.S. Navy McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C Hornet from Strike Fighter Squadron 195 (VFA-195) Dambusters, Carrier Air Wing 5 (CVW-5), Naval Air Station (NAS) Atsugi, Japan (JPN), breaks the sound barrier during the Freedom through Friendship Air Show at Osan Air Base (AB), Republic of Korea (KOR). This is an edited version of the image." By Tsgt. Raheem Moore, USAF - dodmedia.osd.mil, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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