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US warplanes ordered to divert to avoid Russian fighter jet in Syria

The US military rerouted two US aircraft over Syria to maintain a safe distance from a Russian fighter jet in the area, the Pentagon said.

It marked the first time the United States had to divert its warplanes since Russia launched an air campaign in Syria at the end of last month.

The two planes were F-16s that took off from a Turkish airfield on Wednesday and were on their way to a Daesh (ISIL) stronghold in the northeastern Syrian city of Raqqa, CNN reports, citing a senior Pentagon official.

The official said that American pilots have been instructed to change their flight paths if they encounter Russian aircraft within 20 nautical miles.

US and Russian defense officials have met at least once to discuss procedures to avoid accidents between aircraft from the US-led coalition and Russian warplanes over Syria.

“We will keep the channel open because it’s a matter of safety and security for our pilots,” Navy Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said.

The Pentagon has said the discussions are limited to discussing safety procedures and are not aimed at coordinating military operations with Russia.

“We have not agreed to cooperate with Russia, so long as they continue to pursue their mistaken strategy and hit these non-ISIL targets,” Davis said.

US counter-terrorism officials say Russia has been intentionally targeting militant groups backed by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Syria.

An image grab made from a video released by the Russian Defense Ministry on October 5, 2015 reportedly shows a Russian aircraft dropping bombs during an airstrike against ISIL positions in Syria. (AFP photo)

 

Officials have said Russia’s moves in Syria pose a direct challenge to President Barack Obama’s Syria policy.

Administration officials said they believe Russia’s targeting of US-allied forces is aimed at shoring up the Syrian government and sending a message to the White House.

With assistance from its regional allies Jordan and Turkey, the US has been conducting a program to train and arm “moderate” militants in Syria purportedly to combat Daesh terrorists.

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