Australia Suspends Air Strikes in Syria: Government — Escalation of Hostilities — Russia and U.S. in Ugly Debate Over Airspace Management

SYDNEY — Australia said on Tuesday it was suspending air strikes into Syria following the U.S. downing of a Syrian military jet on Sunday and Russia’s subsequent threat against U.S.-led coalition aircraft.

“As a precautionary measure, Australian Defence Force (ADF) strike operations into Syria have temporarily ceased,” Australia’s Department of Defence said in a statement.

Russia said on Monday it would treat U.S.-led coalition aircraft flying west of the River Euphrates in Syria as potential targets and track them with missile systems and military aircraft, but stopped short of saying it would shoot them down.

Russia made clear it was changing its military posture in response to the U.S. downing of a Syrian military jet on Sunday, something Damascus said was the first such incident since the start of the country’s conflict in 2011.

(Reporting by James Regan; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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© ROYAL AUSTRALIAN AIR FORCE/AFP/File | Royal Australian Air Force F/A-18A Hornets fly in formation after refuelling from a KC-30A on a mission over Syria. Australia has temporarily halted air missions following the shooting down of a Syrian jet by US forces
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Credit Vadim Savitsky/Russian Defence, via European Pressphoto Agency

WASHINGTON — Long-running tensions between the United States and Russia erupted publicly on Monday as Moscow condemned the American military’s downing of a Syrian warplane and threatened to target aircraft flown by the United States and its allies west of the Euphrates.

The Russians also said they had suspended their use of a hotline that the American and Russian militaries used to avoid collisions of their aircraft in Syrian airspace.

The episode was the first time the United States downed a Syrian plane since the civil war began there in 2011 and came after the SU-22 jet dropped bombs on Sunday near American-backed fighters combating the Islamic State. It followed another major American military action against the Syrian government: a cruise missile strike to punish a nerve gas attack that killed civilians in April.

The latest escalation comes as competing forces converge on ungoverned swaths of Syria amid the country’s six-year civil war. Syrian forces and Iranian-backed militias that support them are extending their reach east closer to American-backed fighters, including forces that the Pentagon hopes will pursue the militants into the Euphrates River valley after they take the Islamic State’s self-declared capital of Raqqa. The collision of the disparate forces has, in effect, created a war within a war.

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“The escalation of hostilities among the many factions that are operating in this region doesn’t help anybody,” Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Monday. President Trump has allowed military commanders more say in conducting operations against the Islamic State, urging them to surround the militants in their strongholds and “annihilate” them.

Russia’s warnings could turn out to be posturing. The Russian military has threatened to halt its use of the hotline in the past — notably after Mr. Trump ordered April’s missile launch — only to continue and even expand its contacts with the United States military. But in the complicated and quickly unfolding situation in Syria, even bluster can risk an unintended showdown.

“Anytime we have multiple armed forces working in the same battle space without de-confliction, there is a dangerous risk of things spinning out of control,” said Douglas E. Lute, a retired three-star Army general who was the United States representative to NATO until January. “Tactical incidents on the ground or in the air over Syria can be misunderstood and lead to miscalculation.”

American military officials rushed to de-escalate the situation, saying they hoped Russia could be persuaded to keep using the hotline.

“This is a delicate couple of hours,” Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Monday afternoon. He added that the United States would work both diplomatically and militarily “to re-establish de-confliction.”

But the latest statement from Russia’s Defense Ministry was particularly stark. “All flying objects, including planes and drones of the international coalition, detected west of the Euphrates, will be followed by Russian air defense systems as targets,” said the Defense Ministry statement, which stopped short of declaring that the targets would be shot down.

The Pentagon also vowed to continue airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria.

The downing of the Syrian SU-22 on Sunday, the first time the American military had shot down an enemy plane since an F-16 took down a Soviet-era MIG-29 during the 1999 conflict over Kosovo, was the latest in a series of confrontations between the United States and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

One previously undisclosed confrontation followed a drone attack on June 8 on American-supported Syrians patrolling alongside their coalition advisers. The weapon was a Shahed 129 drone made by Iran, though American officials said they do not know who directed it.

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One Response to “Australia Suspends Air Strikes in Syria: Government — Escalation of Hostilities — Russia and U.S. in Ugly Debate Over Airspace Management”

  1. Brittius Says:

    Reblogged this on Brittius.

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