The United States has responded forcefully to Russia’s threat to treat U.S.-led coalition planes in the skies over Syria as targets, as tensions escalate in the 6-year Syrian conflict.
“We’re going to do what we can to protect our interests,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters Monday, defending the decision to shoot down a Syrian SU-22 jet that had bombed coalition partnered forces near the Syrian town of Tabqah.
“The Syrian regime … needs to understand that we will keep the right of self-defense of coalition forces aligned against ISIS,” he said. The spokesman made clear, however, that the United States would continue to “work with partners” to counter the threat of the Islamic State in Syria.
Spicer said Monday that Washington would work to keep lines of communication open to, in his words, “de-conflict potential issues.”
Earlier, General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said officials are trying to re-establish the communications link to prevent potentially deadly accidents, and that the de-confliction efforts have worked well in the past.
“The Russian Federation has indicated that their purpose in Syria, like ours, is to defeat ISIS,” Dunford told reporters. “And we’ll see if that’s true here in the coming hours, because all of our operations in and around Raqqa and southern Syria are designed specifically to get after ISIS.
“We have agreed in the past, that is we and the Russian Federation Pro-Regime Forces, that operations that the coalition were conducting in Syria were effectively degrading ISIS capability, and will work to restore that de-confliction chain in the next few hours,” Dunford said.
Moscow terminated its communication channel with the United States under a memorandum for preventing incidents in Syria’s skies, as a consequence for the US downing a Syrian Su-22 plane, Russia’s Defense Ministry reported on Monday.
“As of June 19 this year, the Defense Ministry of the Russian Federation has ended its interaction with the US side under a memorandum for preventing incidents and providing for safe flights during operations in Syria and demands that the US command carry out a careful investigation and report about its results and the measures taken,” the statement reads.
“The shooting down of a Syrian Air Force jet in Syria’s airspace is a cynical violation of Syria’s sovereignty. The US’ repeated combat operations under the guise of ‘combating terrorism’ against the legitimate armed forces of a UN member-state are a flagrant violation of international law, in addition to being actual military aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic,” the ministry said.
Russia will regard any flights within the area of its air force group’s operation in Syria as legitimate targets, the ministry stressed.
“Any aircraft, including planes and drones of the international coalition, detected in the operation areas west of the Euphrates River by the Russian air forces will be followed by Russian ground-based air defense and air defense aircraft as air targets,” the report said.