While the focus on the Islamic State has shifted in recent months to the terrorist organization's offshore activities, including ISIS-inspired terrorist activites in both the US and Europe, the war above the Islamic State continues, perhaps nowhere more so than in the skies over the controlled territory in Syria and Iraq, between US and Russian air forces. As the LA Times reported last week, Russian warplanes hit Pentagon-backed Syrian fighters with a barrage of airstrikes earlier this week, allegedly disregarding several warnings from U.S. commanders "in what American military officials called the most provocative act since Moscow’s air campaign in Syria began last year."
The strikes hit a base near the Jordanian border, far from areas where the Russians were previously active, and targeted U.S.-backed forces battling the Islamic State militants. These latest strikes occurred on the other side of the country from the usual Russian operations, around Tanf, a town near where the borders of Jordan, Iraq, and Syria meet. The Russian strike hit a small rebel base for staging forces and equipment in a desolate, unpopulated area near the border. About 180 rebels were there as part of the Pentagon's program to train and equip fighters against Islamic State. When the first strikes hit, the rebels called a U.S. command center in Qatar, where the Pentagon orchestrates the daily air war against Islamic State.
As Moon of Alabama adds, the U.S. jets came and the Russian jets went away. The U.S. jets left to refuel, the Russian jets came back and hit again. Allegedly two U.S. proxy fighters were killed and 18 were wounded.
However there was appears to be more to this latest brush up between US and Russian warplanes. According to The Daily Beast, U.S. and Russian fighter jets "clashed" bloodlessly in the air over Syria on June 16 as the American pilots tried and failed to stop the Russians from bombing U.S.-backed rebels in southern Syria near the border with Jordan.
The aerial close encounter underscores just how chaotic Syria’s skies have become as Russia and the U.S.-led coalition work at cross-purposes, each dropping bombs in support of separate factions in the five-year-old civil war.
The near-clash also highlights the escalating risk of American and Russian forces actually coming to blows over Syria, potentially sparking a much wider conflict between the world’s leading nuclear powers.