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U.S. military: Russian jets again harass U.S. drones in Syria

At around 9:30 a.m. Thursday, local time in Syria, Russian fighter jets dropped flares in front of U.S. MQ-9 drones. Photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force/Release
1 of 2 | At around 9:30 a.m. Thursday, local time in Syria, Russian fighter jets dropped flares in front of U.S. MQ-9 drones. Photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force/Release

July 7 (UPI) -- For the second time in less than 24 hours, Russian military aircraft harassed U.S. drones on mission in Syria, the U.S. military said, raising tensions between the two militaries present in the civil war-torn Middle Eastern nation.

The most recent incident happened at 9:30 a.m. local time Thursday and involved Russian fighter jets dropping flares in front of U.S. MQ-9 drones, U.S. Central Command said.

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The incident nearly mirrors the one that happened at 10:40 a.m. Wednesday, when three U.S. MQ-9 drones came under harassment from three Russian jets that dropped multiple parachute flares in front of them. One of the jets was also flown in front of a drone and engaged its afterburner, reducing the ability of the operator to maneuver the U.S. aircraft.

"These events represent another example of unprofessional and unsafe actions by Russian air forces operating in Syria, which threaten the safety of both Coalition and Russian forces," Lt. Gen. Alex Grynkewich, commander of the Ninth Air Force and Combined Forces Air Component for CENTCOM, said in a statement.

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"We urge Russian forces in Syria to cease this reckless behavior and adhere to the standards of behavior expected of a professional air force so we can resume our focus on the enduring defeat of ISIS."

Similar to its reaction to the first instance, U.S. Air Forces Central published a short video of the Thursday harassment episode to its Twitter account, showing a jet dropping a cascade of flares before a drone mid-flight.

"The repeated violations of Russian air forces, of agreed-upon standards and practices, is now becoming a significant safety concern in the region," Gen. Michael Kurilla, commander of U.S. Central Command, said in a statement.

Prior to the U.S. military announcing the second interaction between U.S. drones and Russian fighter jets in Syria, Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder reiterated calls on the Russian forces to "cease this type of reckless behavior and to behave like professional airmen."

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Meanwhile, two French Rafale fighter jets near the Iraq-Syrian border also had to employ maneuvers Thursday to avoid what U.S. Central Command described as "a non-professional interaction" with a Russian SU-35 fighter.

The incidents come amid heightened tensions between the United States and Russia over Moscow's war in Ukraine and follows several instances of near conflict erupting between the countries in the skies over Syria.

Both the U.S. and Russian militaries are present in Syria to fight ISIS, with roughly 900 U.S. troops in the country.

However, Russia is an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and provides the regime with political and military support amid its civil war with the Syrian Defense Forces, which the United States supported the creation of.

The increase in interactions between the two militaries prompted U.S. Central Command less than a month ago to deploy F-22 Raptor fighter jets to the Middle East.

On Thursday, U.S. Central Command said that during the month of June, one ISIS operative was killed and 14 others were detained.

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