For the second time in less than a day, Russian fighter jets harassed U.S. hunter-killer drones operating over Syria, according to the U.S. military.
At 9:30 a.m. local time Thursday, Russian planes flew close to U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drones and dropped flares in front of them, an Air Force spokesman said. The incident involved two Russian planes, an SU-34 and an SU-35, and lasted almost an hour, the spokesman said. A defense official said the incident occurred in northwest Syria.
“This is the second instance of dangerous behaviors by Russian pilots within the past 24 hours,” Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich said, “with the first happening Wednesday at approximately 10:40 a.m. local time.”
“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,” said Grynkewich, who is commander of the Ninth Air Force and the Combined Forces Air Component for Central Command. “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.”
“The safety of military personnel and the success of the mission against ISIS depend on the professional and responsible conduct of all forces operating in the region,” he said.
In Wednesday’s incident, three Reaper drones were conducting a mission against Islamic State targets in Syria when three Russian fighter jets began harassing them. Grynkewich said the Russian jets dropped multiple parachute flares in front of the drones, forcing the drones to take evasive maneuvers.
MQ-9 drones that are searching for targets may carry Hellfire missiles and precision-guided bombs.
In March, Grynkewich told NBC News that armed Russian jets were overflying U.S. positions in Syria nearly every day.
Russia and Syria are conducting joint air defense exercises, according to Russian media. The exercises began Wednesday and are expected to last six days.