The United States military said Tuesday that Russian fighter jets earlier this week severely damaged an American drone operating in Syria. Photo by Col. Leslie Pratt/EPA
July 26 (UPI) -- Russian fighter jets have damaged an American drone flying over Syria, escalating tensions between the two nations in the Middle Eastern country where the United States has repeatedly accused the Kremlin of reckless and unprofessional behavior.
The incident happened shortly after midnight Sunday when a flare fired from a Russian jet struck the U.S. MQ-9 drone, severely damaging its propeller.
Lt. Gen. Alex Grynkewich, commander of the Ninth Air Force and Combined Forces Air Component for CENTCOM, said in a statement Tuesday that the Russian jet had deployed the flares from a position directly above the drone and after having harassed and flown "dangerously close" to the American aerial.
"Only a few meters" separated the two aircraft, he said, adding that an American operator was able to safely fly the damaged drone to its home base.
"The Russian fighter's blatant disregard for flight safety detracts from our mission to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS," Grynkewich said. "We call upon the Russian forces in Syria to put an immediate end to this reckless, unprovoked and unprofessional behavior."
The incident is the latest confrontation between Russian jets and U.S. drones in Syria and an escalation in tensions between the two militaries, which are in the country in the fight against ISIS.
Russia has repeatedly -- and seemingly increasingly -- harassed U.S. drones flying over Syria, including several times already this month.
Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabina Singh told reporters during a press conference Tuesday that the Russians know where the U.S. operates in Syria and there is "no excuse" for its continual harassment of American drones.
"And so again, we call on the Russians to conduct their ways in accordance with international law," Singh said.
The incidents come amid heightened tensions between the United States and Russia over Moscow's war in Ukraine.
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.
The United States has about 9,000 soldiers in Syria, while 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.