Middle East

US has seen ‘significant spike’ in aggressive Russian military flights in Syria this month, commander says

By Oren Liebermann, CNN

The US has seen a “significant spike” in aggressive Russian military flights in Syria this month, the commander of US Central Command said Thursday, two days after Russian jets harassed and collided with a US drone over the Black Sea.

Gen. Erik Kurilla told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that Russian ground-attack aircraft fly over US bases loaded with weapons “in an attempt to try and be provocative.” He described the Russian flights as “not what we expect of a professional air force.”

Asked if the aggressive flights were new, Kurilla responded, “It’s not new, but we have seen a significant spike since about 1 March in Syria.”

“What we are seeing, though, is an increase recently in the unprofessional and unsafe behavior of the Russian air force in the region,” he said.

The US has approximately 900 troops in Syria at two different bases as part of the ongoing campaign to defeat ISIS. The US and Russia have a deconfliction line between the two militaries to ensure operations do not result in a miscalculation or an unintentional escalation.

Kurilla said the Russian actions were a means of trying to “renegotiate the deconfliction protocols that they violate every day.”

On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said at a news conference that the US has observed a “pattern of aggressive, risky and unsafe actions by Russian pilots in international airspace.”

Speaking alongside Austin, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said the US was analyzing the pattern of behavior “to figure out exactly what the way ahead is.”

Milley said the aggressive operations are not just pointed at the US, but at the United Kingdom and other countries as well.

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