Pentagon says Russian fighter jets ‘intercepting’ U.S. drones over Syria as Moscow continues to defy Washington and protect Assad

(NationalSecurity.news) The Pentagon has admitted that Russian warplanes are shadowing U.S. Predator drones in the skies above Syria, with three separate incidents being recorded in the past week alone, Fox News reported Thursday.

The shadowing of American drones began shortly after Russia began its air campaign in Syria, with incidents steadily increasing, officials said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Navy Captain Jeff Davis told reporters that one U.S. aircraft flying over Syria had to be rerouted to make way for a Russian fighter jet on at least one occasion.

“We have taken action to maintain safe separation,” Davis said, adding that the U.S. aircraft “changed path a little bit.” He did not disclose which type of U.S. aircraft was involved, however.

U.S. officials who spoke with Fox News said the drone encountered have taken place over regions ISIS controls, including the group’s de facto headquarters in Raqqa. Also, one encounter occurred on the Turkish-Syria border near Korbani, while still another happened in the northwest, near the contested city of Aleppo.

“The first time it happened, we thought the Russians got lucky. Then it happened two more times,” one official told Fox News.

The military’s MQ-1 Predator drone is not stealthy. “It is easy to see a predator on radar,” said one official.

Thus far Russian planes have not yet attempted to down a U.S. drone but instead have flown “intercept tracks,” which is a term meaning Russian fighters flew close enough to make their presence felt, one official noted.

One other official said, “the Russians flew very close, but did not impede the drone flight,” according to Fox News.

Peter Cook, the Pentagon press secretary who is currently traveling with Defense Secretary Ash Carter in Europe, in the lead-up to a meeting of NATO ministers, said the Defense Department was keeping the door open for military-to-military talks with Moscow. But thus far the Russians don’t seem eager to discuss what they are doing to aid Syria and essentially obstruct U.S. objectives there.

Fox News further noted that the drone development comes as Russia moved some of its Mi-24 helicopter gunships to a base near Homs from a base on the Mediterranean, a shift of about 100 miles. Also, Russia has moved troops including Russian marines, and four BM-30 rocket launchers there as well. The rocket launchers are capable of firing cluster munitions, mines and high explosive warheads. The forces are in a position to strike anti-Assad rebels but have so far remained in garrison. U.S. intelligence officials also said that Russian infantry fighting vehicles and a more conventional artillery battery have been identified as well.

“All these movements demonstrate the Russians are forming a ‘protective belt’ around Latakia, the stronghold of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and are carrying out airstrikes against anti-Assad rebel forces, some backed by the CIA, to protect both regime and Russian interests, including a Russian naval base in Tartus established in the 70s,” said the Fox News report.

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