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Russian, U.S. military aircraft within miles of each other in Syria

By Andrew V. Pestano
A pair of U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles fly over northern Iraq after conducting airstrikes in Syria. UPI/U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Matthew Bruch
A pair of U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles fly over northern Iraq after conducting airstrikes in Syria. UPI/U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Matthew Bruch

WASHINGTON, Oct. 14 (UPI) -- Russian and U.S. military aircraft were within miles of each other while recently flying over Syrian airspace as the countries continue their separate strategic airstrikes in the region.

Army Col. Steve Warren confirmed Saturday's incident at a Pentagon briefing on Tuesday.

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"A couple of Russian aircraft came within visual recognition distance of a couple of coalition aircraft," Warren said during the briefing. "All pilots conducted themselves appropriately and everyone went about their business... But it is dangerous, right? I mean, it's dangerous if two sets of aircraft come into the same piece of airspace without very clear, laid-out protocols for safety of all involved, which is why we've sat down with the Russians to establish some safety protocols."

Warren said that the aircraft were "miles apart," about 10 or 20 miles, but "close enough for them to get some visual contact."

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"There's always going to be some risk if there are uncoordinated actors in the battle space," Warren added. "There's simply no question about it. What's important to note is that, you know, U.S. and coalition pilots have extraordinary situational awareness based both on our capabilities as flyers and on our capabilities for information."

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Saturday wasn't the first time U.S. and Russian aircraft have had a near-miss over Syria. On Thursday Pentagon officials said two U.S. F-16s departed Incirlik air base in Turkey for an Islamic State stronghold in Syria when they were diverted to avoid a collision with a Russian war plane.

The two U.S. aircraft were not able to complete their mission because of the interference.

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Russia recently began conducting airstrikes to aid Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a long-time ally, against IS -- also identified as Daesh, ISIS and ISIL. Russian military aircraft have also targeted rebel forces who oppose Assad's rule, including some rebels who the United States considers moderates.

Since Russia began its military operation in Syria, U.S. pilots have been ordered to change their flight paths if a Russian plane is within 20 nautical miles.

Putin on Monday said his country's airstrikes are designed to stabilize the political climate in Syria -- and that they will continue until that goal is met.

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