An American fighter plane on Tuesday shot down a drone of the pro-regime forces in Syria, sparking Russia’s anger that blamed the international coalition of “complicity in terrorism.”
This incident is the latest between the pro-regime forces and the United States that run an international coalition to fight mainly against the jihadists of the Islamic State (ISIS) group in neighboring Syria and Iraq.
Moscow is militarily involved alongside Bashar al-Assad’s regime in the war in Syria, while Washington backs and arms a rival Arab-Kurdish alliance and Syrian rebels.
This new incident occurred just 48 hours after a Syrian army plane was also shot down on Sunday by an American fighter plane in the Raqa region of northern Syria.
The UN has warned against a risk of “escalation”.
On Tuesday before dawn, an American F-15 Strike Eagle aircraft shot down an Iranian Shaheed 129 drone near the Al-Tanaf region in southern Syria after it had “shown a hostile intent”, the coalition said in a statement. The United States had already shot a pro-regime drone two weeks ago in Al-Tanaf near the Iraqi border. They also bombarded pro-regime fighters who were approaching Al-Tanaf where US special forces are training Syrian groups against ISIS.
“The coalition will not let the pro-regime forces threaten the coalition and its allied forces or get close to them,” the statement said.
In retaliation for the air incident on Sunday in Raqa, Russia announced Monday the suspension of its military communication channel with the United States in Syria. It also said it would now point its missiles at coalition planes located west of the Euphrates.
And after the destruction of the drone, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Riabkov said on Tuesday that “such strikes are akin to complicity in terrorism.”
The latest events caused a suspension by Australia, a member of the international coalition, of its air missions to Syria.
Launched in March 2011 by the suppression of pro-democracy protests, the conflict in Syria has become more complex with the involvement of various regional and international actors as well as jihadist groups in a fragmented territory. The Syrian skies are encumbered by planes of the regime, those of Russia, those of the international coalition and sometimes those of neighboring Turkey.
By destroying the Syrian aircraft on Sunday, the coalition claimed that the plane targeted was bombing the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) positions. The FDS, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters supported by the United States, is currently trying to drive ISIS out of the city of Raqa, the main stronghold of the jihadist group in Syria.
Russia is not part of the international coalition. It has anti-aircraft defense systems S-300 and S-400 deployed in Syria, as well as dozens of fighters and bombers.
This escalation of tensions comes at a time when the Syrian troops are dangerously close to areas controlled by the SDF. The regime is not participating in the SDF offensive to seize the city of Raqa but wants to reach the oil province of Deir Ezzor, located further east and controlled in majority by the EI.
Although they are both fighting against ISIS, the regime’s troops and the FDS are rival forces.
Russian Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said the presence of US forces in Syria was “absolutely illegal. There was neither a decision of the Security Council nor a request from the Syrian authorities.
In its fight against ISIS, the international coalition announced that it killed a senior official of the jihadist group, Turki Albinali, in an air strike on May 31st in the Syrian city of Mayadine near the Iraqi border. According to the coalition, Albinali was a “close confidant” to the head of the Islamic State Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
In more than six years, the conflict in Syria has left more than 320,000 dead and millions displaced.