Two US F-22 stealth fighters intercepted two Russian aircraft Wednesday after the Russian jets crossed the Euphrates River in Syria, flying east of the "de-confliction line" that is supposed to separate Russian and US-led coalition aircraft operating over Syria, two US defense officials told CNN.
The incident took place Wednesday, when two Russian Su-25 close air support jets entered a "deconfliction area" east of the Euphrates river, a U.S. military official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
A pair of US jets intercepted two Russian fighter aircraft over Syria on Tuesday, the Pentagon said, the kind of highly unsafe yet common encounter that's occurring with more regularity despite agreements between the countries to avoid potentially deadly mistakes.
In recent months, Russian jets have increasingly flown in restricted areas in eastern Syria, violating long established agreements with the US -led coalition.
The F-22 ended up trailing that Su-35 after it flew across the river into territory deemed unsafe to coalition aircraft.
During one maneuver, an Su-25 flew so close to an F-22 "that it had to aggressively maneuver to avoid a midair collision", he said.
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According to United States Air Forces Central Command, Russia regularly crosses the lines - and even did so as many as eight times a day last month.
"We are not here to fight the Russians and Syrians", he continued.
A verbal deconfliction agreement was made in November for the Russians to remain on the west side of the Euphrates River, and the coalition would operate to the east, according to the spokesman.
Pickart said that a Russian jet flew so close to a USA aircraft that there was nearly a midair collision. "The coalition's greatest concern is that we could shoot down a Russian aircraft because its actions are seen as a threat to our air or ground forces".
The incident came just days after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced during a visit to a base in Syria he would scale back air operations, a suggestion that triggered skepticism in the Pentagon based on earlier statements of force reductions that never materialized. "That said, if anyone threatens coalition or friendly partner forces in the air or on the ground, we will defend them".
But the US Air Force categorically denies the incident, saying in a statement that deconfliction phone line transcripts show Russian Federation never called about the incident and that Coalition flight logs have no record of any US cross overs without informing Russian Federation first. There's just one problem: according to USA officials in CENTCOM, this first interaction between these two storied fighters never took place at all.