US officials say the first time it happened they thought the Russians got lucky. But when Russian fighter jets shadowed U.S. predator drones two more times high above Syria, they realized this was a deliberate action.
Fox News reports that Russian fighter jets closely approached U.S. predator drones over Syria at least three times in the past week.
Military officials say, “It is easy to see a predator on radar.” The U.S. military’s MQ-1 Predator drone is not a stealth aircraft. Another official said, “The Russians flew very close, but did not impede the drone flight.”
U.S. officials tell Fox News the drone encounters took place “over ISIS-controlled Syria, including its de facto headquarters in Raqqa, as well as along the Turkish-Syrian border near Korbani.”
All of these recent movements by the Russians are part of their effort to form a “protective belt” around Latakia, President Assad’ stronghold.
The Pentagon maintains the vast majority of strikes from the base at Bassel al-Assad airport in Latakia– including some 30 fighter/bomber jets– have been against “Syrian opposition forces and not ISIS.”
One senior military official said the Russians carried out “only one half or at best a quarter” of the strikes they claim to have conducted.
According to one official, the Russians have not attempted to shoot down any of the U.S. drones, but instead have flown “intercept tracks.” That’s a doctrinal term meaning the Russians flew close enough to make their presence felt.