Russia has violated a four-year-old agreement with the U.S. by flying armed jets over a U.S. garrison in Syria nearly every day this month, according to Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, who is in charge of air operations in the area.
Grynkewich, the combined forces air component commander for U.S. Central Command, said Russian jets have violated the airspace of the Al-Tanf Garrison roughly 25 times this month, compared to no times in February and 14 times in January, NBC News reported Wednesday.
"They're regularly flying directly overhead of our units, and I've defined directly overhead as within about a mile, no more than a mile offset one side or the other, while we've got forces right there on the ground at ATG," Grynkewich said. "So, it's an uncomfortable situation."
Grynkewich's comments came about a week after two Russian Su-27 aircraft dumped fuel on and flew in front of an unmanned U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone above the Black Sea on March 14, causing it to crash.
The U.S. has more than 900 troops, and hundreds more contractors, in Syria, working with Kurdish fighters to quell any resurgence of the Islamic State, which was defeated as a caliphate in 2019. Russia's military has been backing Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad during his country's 12-year-old civil war.
In 2019 the U.S. and Russia established rules to avoid accidental and potentially provocative encounters in Syria, according to NBC News. Both sides agreed that direct overflight of each other's positions on the ground, particularly with armed aircraft, was not acceptable.
Grynkewich said Russia might be trying to put more pressure on the U.S. military presence in Syria, of which it disagrees. But he said because the U.S. and Russia are supposed to be opposed to the Islamic State in Syria, "it seems like a very strange time to do this."
"What it is really is a distraction from the fight against ISIS," he said. "It hasn't affected the fight on the ground yet, but it certainly has the potential to.
"I'm not concerned about overt hostilities; I'm concerned about a miscalculation or unprofessional or immature action by somebody."
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