DAMASCUS – A US-led coalition fighter jet shot down a Syrian military plane in Raqqa province on Monday, drawing ire from Moscow and Damascus.
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It is believed to be the first air-to-air kill of a manned aircraft by a US military jet since the Kosovo campaign in 1999.
The SU-22 fighter bomber was engaged by an F/A-18E Super Hornet on Sunday afternoon near the town of Tabqa, where the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have been fighting Islamic State militants as part of a drive to retake the city of Raqqa, after it had dropped bombs near the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, the Pentagon said in a statement.
It is the first time in the Syrian conflict that the US-led coalition has shot down a Syrian jet.
The Pentagon statement added: “The demonstrated hostile intent and actions of pro-regime forces toward Coalition and partner forces in Syria conducting legitimate counter-Isis [IS] operations will not be tolerated.”
The coalition, it added, did “not seek to fight the Syrian regime, Russian or pro-regime forces partnered with them, but will not hesitate to defend coalition or partner forces from any threat”.
Syria condemned what it called a “flagrant attack” that would have “dangerous repercussions”.
An army statement said the pilot of the plane was missing. The “flagrant attack was an attempt to undermine the efforts of the army as the only effective force capable with its allies… in fighting terrorism across its territory,” it said.
Russia, Syria’s main ally, said it was also halting communication with the US aimed at preventing air incidents.
“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 defence ministry said.
It denied the US had used a communications channel before the SU-22 fighter bomber was downed.
The memorandum of co-operation with the coalition aimed at preventing air incidents and guaranteeing flight safety was ending as of Monday, the defence ministry added.
In a statement, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, whose government backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said “all countries must fully respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria”.
“We call on the US and all others who have their forces or advisers on the ground in Syria to ensure the coordination of our work,” he added.
Moscow views the US-led coalition’s attack on the Syrian government military jet as an act of aggression and assistance for the terrorists that the US is fighting against, according to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov.
“What is it then, if not an act of aggression, an act directly in breach of international law,” Ryabkov told journalists in Moscow.
“If you want, it’s actually help for the terrorists the US is fighting, declaring that they are conducting a counterterrorism policy,” the official added.
He also called on everyone on the ground to “respect Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Timeline of US strikes on Syrian forces
The US has already attacked pro-government forces on the ground after they entered an exclusion zone designed to protect US personnel training and advising anti-government rebels near Syria’s border with Iraq.
- Earlier this month, the US shot down a pro-Syrian government armed drone after it fired at coalition forces near the al-Tanf border crossing, between Syria and Iraq
- In May, US-led coalition aircraft bombed a convoy of pro-Syrian government forces who were reportedly moving towards a base at al-Tanf being used by rebel fighters and Western special forces.
- In April, the US launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Syria’s Shayrat airbase in response to a suspected chemical weapons attack on a rebel-held town in Idlib province.
- In September 2016, US-led coalition planes targeting IS positions instead killed Syrian troops. The US expressed “regret” for the incident, which Russia said left 62 Syrian troops dead.