WASHINGTON — U.S. military pilots have been warned by their top commanders to be careful not to react to any Russian military planes flying in Syria as Russian aircraft increasingly fly near American planes, according to a U.S. official familiar with such incidents.
The pilots have been told to simply proceed with standard aviation safety procedures, a directive that comes as the U.S. hopes to complete by Tuesday a technical agreement with the Russians on how both nations’ air forces will fly safely and maintain contact with they come near each other.
Russian pilots over Syria on two recent occasions have flown very close to U.S. warplanes, according to the U.S. official.
In one instance in the last two weeks, a Russian jet flew within 500 feet of a U.S. fighter. On another, on Thursday, a Russian aircraft came within 1,500 feet of two U.S. aircraft.
There was no hostile action by either side and no indication of hostile intent in these two incidents.
Separately, there are also many Iranian troops operating on the ground in Syria to back up stepped-up Russian airstrikes.
The U.S. now estimates that there are about 2,000 Iranian forces around Aleppo made up of Quds, Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp and Iranian-hired proxies. The U.S. believes the Iranian forces are playing a supporting role for the Russians and Syrians but that that does not rule out front-line fighting.