An “incident” where US and Russian combat aircraft came within miles of each other have forced the two countries into urgent talks today on air safety in Syrian airspace.
According to a U.S defense spokesperson, the planes were in “visual contact” with each other with only 10 to 20 miles separating them.
Two previous rounds of talks have failed to find agreement on the best way to avoid an “accidental conflict” .
The latest incident, which took place on the weekend, involved two Russian and two U.S. aircraft which “entered the same battle space”. U.S. Defense spokesman Colonel Steve Warren says the Russian planes had repeatedly broken air patrols, coming close to U.S. American unmanned aerial vehicles or drone aircraft. Russia has not yet commented on this claim.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter says he expects a deal on air safety over Syria will be reached soon.
Russia says it has “updated proposals” which it will present at the new meeting.
Carter says, “Our talks… are very professional, they’re very constructive, and I expect them to lead in very short order to an agreement.”
But he stressed America is “not able at this time to associate ourselves more broadly with Russia’s approach in Syria because it is wrongheaded and strategically short-sighted”.
Russia began its airstrikes in Syria on 30 September, claiming it is targeting Islamic State militants and other jihadist terror groups after a request for militarily assistance from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But Syrian activists backed by western countries say Russian planes have been attacking non-military targets. Moscow denies the claims.
Yesterday two shells hit the compound of the Russian embassy in the Syrian capital Damascus as “hundreds” of pro Assad supporters rallied outside in support of Russian air strikes in Syria. News reports say no one was killed, but some were injured.