Sunday 21 August, 2016 Update: Dangerous Skies Above Syria

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The airspace over northern Syria has become crowded and tense of late. Twice in the last four days, Syrian warplanes have made rare appearances over territory held by Kurdish forces in the northeast corner of Syria prompting coalition aircraft to be scrambled. On 18 August, Syrian Su-24 Fencers conducted raids in an area where US special forces were operating. A request for assistance went out and US fighters were launched but by the time they arrived in the area, the Syrian Fencers had departed. Following the incident, the Assad regime was placed on notice by the Pentagon. Damascus was warned not to fly or conducts strikes in areas where US forces are operating.

On the next day, US F-22 Raptors were scrambled to intercept another pair of Syrian Su-24s that flew near the town of Hasakah. The Raptor pilots flew within a mile of their Syrian counterparts and attempted to hail them, but received no response. The Raptors then used other means to ‘encourage the Syrians to depart from the area.’ This effort was successful, though the details on exactly what the ‘other means’ were remains unclear.

The encounters highlight the crowded and complex conditions that exist in Syrian airspace these days. Aircraft from the US-led coalition, Russia and Syria are all operating in the same areas and at the same times in some cases. The deconfliction plan that was put in place between the US and Russian militaries to keep their aircraft separated has worked very well so far. Judging by the events of 18 and 19 August, however, it appears that the Syrian Air Force is not included in the same agreement.

If that is the case, more incidents like this can be expected in the future, adding to an already tense situation in the air above Syria.

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