US fighter jets have been deployed in Turkey to protect slower American warplanes from potential Russian or Syrian attacks, a Pentagon official says.
Six F-15C warplanes are tasked with providing cover for bomber, attack and cargo aircraft from threats posed by Syrian and Russian fighters, an unnamed US defense official told USA Today on Tuesday.
The US Air Force B-1 bombers, A-10 and AC-130 attack planes, which are reportedly used in US-led strikes on Daesh (ISIL) positions in Syria, all fly at slow speeds and are vulnerable to attacks from enemy pilots, the official added.
He added that cargo planes that are airdropping ammunition for US-backed militants will also be protected.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon announced Tuesday that the fighter jets, sent to Turkey’s Incirlik Airbase last week, will be protecting the Turkish airspace.
“At the request of the government of Turkey, the US Air Force F-15Cs that arrived last week will conduct combat air patrols to assist in defense of the Turkish airspace,” Laura Seal, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement Tuesday.
“We will be conducting these patrols at the request of the government of Turkey. Turkey faces increased instability along its border with Syria and Iraq and irresponsible behavior from actors in the region. This includes the incursions Russia made into Turkey’s — and thereby NATO’s — airspace in October,” the statement noted.
According to NATO officials, Russian Sukhoi SU-30 and SU-24 jets, based in Syria, entered the Turkish airspace early in October. Ankara scrambled two F-16s to intercept the planes.
The Pentagon increased its military activities in the Middle East after Russia launched an air campaign against terrorists wreaking havoc in Syria on September 30.
Earlier in October, Washington confirmed that Russian and American fighter jets came within visual range from each other in skies over Syria.
Additionally, two US F-16s had to reroute their flight paths to avoid getting engaged with Russian warplanes last month.
The confrontations prompted military officials of both countries to open communications to prevent mid-air accidents.