The airspace over Syria is quickly becoming a place of greater conflict. Just days after a US F/A-18E Super Hornet shot down a Syrian Su-22 aircraft that completed a bombing run near US backed rebels, news has emerged today that a US F-15 fighter jet has shot down an Iranian drone over Syrian airspace.
According to a report by Fox News and the Associated Press:
A U.S. jet shot down an Iranian drone flying in southern Syria near U.S.-backed forces on Monday, a U.S. defense official confirmed to Fox News.
A U.S Air Force F-15 shot down the Iranian-made drone, according to the official.
This is the second time the U.S. has shot down an Iranian drone in less than a month. U.S. officials reported on June 8 that an American fighter jet shot down a drone likely connected to Iranian-supported Hezbollah forces. The drone fired on U.S.-backed troops before it was taken down. An Army spokesman at the Pentagon said at the time that the drone carried more weapons and was considered a direct threat.
An NBC News report confirmed that the aircraft was armed and that while it was an Iranian drone, it was unclear exactly who was operating it:
A U.S. F-15 took down the drone because it was “showing hostile intent” to coalition forces on the ground, according to a U.S. defense official. The Shahed 129 drone was flying in a pattern that would have taken it directly over where U.S. troops were operating at a combat outpost near the Syria-Jordan border to train coalition ground forces in the fight against ISIS, according to a Pentagon press release.
The drone was armed but it did not drop any munitions.
Officials called the drone’s actions “unacceptable” and said the U.S. shot it down before it was too late to protect the troops on the ground.
On Sunday a US Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet fighter jet shot down a Syrian Su-22 that had just conducted a bombing run on US backed rebels despite being warned not to continue its mission by US aircraft.
The actions by the US pilot mark the first time since 1999 that a US fighter jet has destroyed a a manned enemy aircraft in air to air combat. After, the US military characterized the incident as self defense. The last recorded air to air kill by a US pilot was in 1999 during the Kosovo War when a US F-15 shot down a Yugoslavian Mig-29.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov called the action a sign of direct “aggression,” and told Russian Russian reporters that the downing of the plane was the same as “helping the terrorists that the U.S. is fighting against.”
“What is this, if not an act of aggression?” Ryabkov asked.
Russia also proclaimed that all aircraft west of the Euphrates River would be considered targets following the incident, implying that US warplanes would be fair game for Russian anti-aircraft measures and fighter planes.
The current situation in Syria has presented problems among the many players involved. While the United States and Russia are not in conflict over the area, the two countries are backing very different groups for very different reasons and it has, at times, put US and Russian forces dangerously close to being in direct opposition to one another.