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U.S. jets, Russian war plane have near miss over Syria

By Amy R. Connolly
U.S. jets, Russian war plane have near miss over Syria
The Pentagon said at least two U.S. aircrafts have been diverted to avoid midair collisions with Russian war planes, both conducting airstrikes over Syria. File photo by Senior Airman Matthew Lotz/U.S. Air Force

WASHINGTON, Oct. 8 (UPI) -- The Pentagon said at least two U.S. aircrafts have been diverted to avoid midair collisions with a competing Russian war plane as they both conduct airstrikes over Syria.

Two U.S. F-16s departed Incirlik air base in Turkey for an Islamic State stronghold in Syria when they diverted to avoid the collision, officials said.

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Since Russia began its military operation in Syria last month, U.S. pilots have been ordered to change their flight paths if a Russian plane is within 20 nautical miles. The U.S. F-16s were not able to complete their mission because of the interference by the Russian planes, officials said. There is no sign the two aircrafts communicated with each other.

"We have taken some actions to ensure the safe separation of aircraft, but we do continue to fly missions over Iraq and Syria in support of this mission to degrade and destroy [the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria]," Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said Wednesday.

RELATED U.S., Russia agree to resume talks over Syrian airstrikes

Russia has maintained its operations over Syria have been largely aimed at the IS -- also known as Daesh, ISIL and ISIS -- and other militant groups. American officials suggest the motive seems to be more about supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a close Moscow ally.

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U.S. officials said they have had at least one meeting Russia to discuss avoiding any mishaps that could spark an international incident. The talks have been limited to discussing procedure and are not aimed at coordinating military operations.

Officials said fewer than 10 percent of the Russian strikes have been against the IS or other groups.

RELATED Russian Defense Ministry: Airstrikes in Syria will 'continue intensifying'

"They've been largely against opposition groups -- groups that want a better future for Syria and don't want to see the Assad regime stay in power," State Department spokesman John Kirby said.

RELATED NATO's Stoltenberg: Russian violation of Turkish airspace deliberate

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