Russia has issued a strong response and warning after an American F/A-18-E Super Hornet shot down a Syrian Su-22 on Sunday. Liberty Nation correspondent Jeff Charles reported on the first American air-to-air kill since the 1999 Kosovo campaign and Russia has since stated that US-led coalition aircraft will henceforth be seen as targets. “Any aircraft, including planes and drones belonging to the international coalition operating west of the Euphrates River,” said the Russian defense ministry, “will be tracked by Russian anti-aircraft forces in the sky and on the ground and treated as targets.”
The Syrian Su-22 had dropped bombs on Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) troops several hours after U.S.-led coalition buzzed over pro-government troops who had attacked SDF forces near the town of Ja’Din, near Tabqa. The United States, therefore, acted accordingly.
“In accordance with the rules of engagement and in collective self-defense of Coalition partnered forces,” the Pentagon stated, “[the plane] was immediately shot down by a U.S. F/A-18-E Super Hornet.”
The shooting down of the Syrian jet and the Russian response only proves to further entrench the United States and Russia into the continuation of a proxy war in Syria. The U.S. backs the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who are fighting both the Islamic State and the government of Syria. Russia, on the other hand, is the Syrian government’s main ally.
Both pro and anti-government forces in Syria are fighting against ISIS within the region, which has led to awkward and begrudging cooperation between Russia and the United States on that front. Russia’s recent warning to the United States and its coalition creates both a diplomatic and tactical difficulty.
Russia not only threw the usual diplomatic jabs by stating that the United States was violating Syrian sovereignty and breaking international (which is ironic given Russia’s less than legal annexation of Crimea), but also halted communication with the United States intended to prevent conflicts of air space.
This communication line was previously suspended in April after the United States conducted a strike against Shayrat airbase with Tomahawk cruise missiles, only to be resumed last month. This suspension, according to the BBC, was largely in name only. Communication between the United States and Russia continued, albeit behind-the-scenes. This time, however, the communication breakdown may be more permanent.
If the Russians truly intend to lock down a significant portion of Syrian airspace and the Trump Administration is unwilling to test Russia’s resolve (which would mean putting American pilots in harm’s way), Russia/Syria will effectively achieve air superiority west of the Euphrates River. The United States would be hard pressed to provide close air support to our SDF allies, leaving them susceptible to air strikes.
The alternative, however, is to flirt with disaster. Testing the Russian resolve and conducting sorties within contested airspace puts our pilots in Russian crosshairs and threatens the potential of a shooting war with Russia.
The Russian Defense Ministry has said that our aircraft would be treated as targets, but are those targets they are willing to engage?