Russian jets flew over US bases in Syria 'nearly every day' in March

Russian jets flew over US bases in Syria 'nearly every day' in March
A US commander said that aggressive Russian action could cause "miscalculation."
3 min read
23 March, 2023
The US and Russia maintain a 'deconfliction' line to prevent direct confrontations between the two in Syria. [Getty]

Russian jets have flown over US bases in Syria nearly every day in March in violation of deconfliction agreements between the two countries, a US commander said on Wednesday.

Russian jets flew over the two US bases in Syria – al-Tanf in the southeast and al-Omar fields – approximately 25 times this month, as opposed to zero times in February.

"They're regularly flying directly overhead of our units … while we've got forces right there on the ground at [al-Tanf Garrison]. So it's an uncomfortable situation," Lt. Gen Alexus Grynkewich, a commander for U.S. Central Command, told NBC News.

The Russian buzzing of US soldiers and bases in Syria marks an increase in aggressive behaviour by Moscow in a theatre where the two countries have generally tried to keep their forces apart.

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Moscow and Washington have maintained a 'deconfliction' line in Syria over the past four years to ensure that while the two powers are on opposing sides, they do not come into direct confrontation.

At times, confrontations between the two countries have occurred, seemingly by design.

In February 2018, Syrian regime forces and Russian private mercenaries belonging to the Wagner Group advanced on US positions. The US bombed the soldiers in response, killing about 100.

In August 2020, in an incident caught on video Russian troops ran US soldiers off the road in northeastern Syria.

Lt. Gen. Grynkewich said that while he does not think that Russia would use weapons against the US, aggressive Russian actions "increase the risk of miscalculation."

"This is cleverly provoking the US. Such accidents are affecting any positive outcome, if any, in the Syrian context," Ruslan Trad, a security researcher at the Atlantic Council, told The New Arab.

Trad added that he thought Russia was trying to "provoke a reaction" from the United States, emboldened by, among other things, its recent meetings with China.

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The United States maintains about 900 troops in Syria in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, which seeks to combat the so-called Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq.

The two US bases in the country host US soldiers who advise local militias in their fight against IS.

In the northeast, the US supports the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and in the southeast, it advises the rebel group known as the Free Syria Army.

The US has been pressured by Syria, Russia and Turkey to remove their troops from the country, arguing it is a violation of Syria's sovereignty.

Russia first sent soldiers to Syria in 2015 to defend the Syrian regime against opposition factions. It has kept soldiers and fighter jets in the country since then.

The US and Russia have had a breakdown in relations since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, causing already limited cooperation on Syria to worsen.