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American Warplane Shoots Down Iranian-Made Drone Over Syria

It was the latest in a series of encounters that have heightened tensions in the already complicated fighting in Syria, where many sides are converging on ungoverned parts of the country as Syrian forces and Iranian-backed militias that support them push east toward American-backed Syrian fighters trying to take the Islamic State’s self-declared capital of Raqqa.

Two days earlier, an American F/A-18 shot down a Syrian SU-22 warplane that had dropped bombs near American-backed fighters combating the Islamic State. In response to the downing of the Syrian plane, Russia, which staunchly supports the Syrian government, warned that it would target any American and coalition planes that flew west of the Euphrates River.

Even as the tensions have risen, signs emerged that the Russian and American militaries were working to manage the crisis. Though Russia also announced on Monday that it would suspend the use of a hotline set up for the two sides to avoid unintended confrontations in the skies over Syria, Lt. Col. Damien Pickart, the spokesman for the American-led air war command at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, said that the hotline had not been interrupted.

“The deconfliction channel remains active and in use,” Colonel Pickart said.

Lt. Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian, who commands the coalition-led air campaign over Syria, said on Monday that the United States would reposition its aircraft to minimize the risk from Syrian and Russian air defenses but would continue its strikes against the Islamic State in Syria. He also confirmed that there had been recent instances in which ground-based air defenses were directed at coalition planes.

Iranian drones have been flying fairly regularly over southern Syria, and Syrian aircraft have begun to venture there as well. This month, an American warplane nearly shot down a Syrian SU-22 that appeared to be maneuvering to drop bombs on American-backed Syrian fighters, but the Syrian aircraft dumped its munitions in the desert and zoomed away.

After the Russian threats, Australia said on Tuesday that it had suspended its air operations over Syria.

The decision will not have a major effect on the air campaign in Syria, where Australia’s F/A-18s do not fly. Australian reconnaissance and refueling tanks have operated there and have been moved out of Syrian airspace, paralleling what the United States and other coalition members have done at a time of increased tensions between the United States and the Assad government and its Iranian and Russian allies.

Source: NYT > World

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