In response to escalating concerns over Iranian seizures in the Gulf region, the United States has intensified its deployment of fighter jets near the strategically vital Strait of Hormuz.
As per a report by AP, a high-ranking defence official revealed on Friday that the US is bolstering its efforts to safeguard ships from potential Iranian aggression. The official further emphasized the mounting apprehension regarding the strengthening alliances between Iran, Russia, and Syria across the Middle East.
During a briefing with Pentagon reporters, a senior defense official disclosed that the United States plans to dispatch F-16 fighter jets to the Gulf region over the upcoming weekend as an augmentation to the A-10 attack aircraft that have been conducting patrols for over a week. The decision follows a recent incident in which Iran attempted to seize two oil tankers in close proximity to the strait, with one of the vessels coming under fire.
Requesting anonymity to disclose operational specifics in the region, the defence official affirmed that the deployment of F-16 fighter jets aims to provide air cover for ships transiting through the waterway, while simultaneously enhancing the military’s presence in the area as a deterrent against Iran.
The official also noted that this move would increase visibility and surveillance capabilities in the region. According to the US Navy, on both occasions when Iranian naval vessels attempted to seize ships, their actions were halted when the USS McFaul, a guided-missile destroyer, promptly arrived at the scene.
Furthermore, the defence official informed reporters that the United States is evaluating various military options to address the growing instances of Russian aggression in Syrian airspace, AP reported.
Although the official refrained from elaborating on the specific options under consideration, they emphasized that the US is resolute in not relinquishing any territory and will persist in conducting anti-Islamic State missions in the western region of Syria.
According to the defense official, the recent surge in Russian military activity, characterized by increased frequency and aggression since March, can be attributed to the growing collaboration and coordination among Moscow, Tehran, and the Syrian government. The primary objective of this concerted effort is to exert pressure on the United States to withdraw from Syria.
The official further revealed that Russia is indebted to Iran for its support in the Ukrainian conflict, while Tehran seeks the US’s departure from Syria to facilitate the transfer of lethal aid to Lebanese Hezbollah and to pose a threat to Israel. The United States has observed a heightened level of cooperation, collaboration, joint planning, and intelligence sharing primarily among mid-level leaders from the Russian military and the Iranian Quds force within Syria. These activities are intended to mount pressure on the US to withdraw its troops from Syria.
There are about 900 US forces in the country, and others move in and out to conduct missions targeting Islamic State group militants.
The official said, “The US does not believe Russian aircraft plan to drop bombs on US troops or shoot down manned aircraft. But there are concerns that Russian pilots will knock a Reaper drone out of the sky and that Moscow believes that type of action would not get a strong US military response.”
Highlighting a notable incident, tensions escalated between Russia and the United States in March when a Russian warplane intentionally doused a US surveillance drone with jet fuel and subsequently damaged its propeller, resulting in the US military being compelled to ditch the MQ-9 Reaper into the Black Sea.
Following this provocative act, the incident sparked a dialogue between the defense chiefs of both Russia and the United States. However, it is important to note that there was no immediate military retaliation in response to the incident. Nonetheless, the event played a significant role in intensifying the already escalating tensions between the two nations.
In recent developments, Rear Adm. Oleg Gurinov, who leads the Russian Reconciliation Center for Syria, revealed that the Russian and Syrian militaries have been engaged in collaborative training exercises. In statements reported by Syrian state media, Gurinov expressed Russia’s concerns regarding drone flights conducted by the US-led coalition in northern Syria. He referred to these flights as “systematic violations of protocols” intended to prevent clashes between the two military forces.
To prevent unintended clashes between US and Russian forces in Syria, military commanders from both sides regularly communicate via a deconfliction phone line, which has been in operation for several years. This communication channel is crucial due to the presence of troops from both countries on the ground and in the air within Syria.
According to a US official, these communications can occur multiple times a day and sometimes become contentious, with commanders engaging in heated arguments about ongoing operations. The official further explained that during these conversations, Russian commanders frequently declare certain airspace areas as restricted operating zones, citing ongoing military exercises in those areas.
The US sees no exercises, and tells Russia that American forces are on a counterterror mission against the Islamic State group and plan to fly in that area. The Russians then say they can’t guarantee US aircraft safety if they go there. And once the mission begins, and the aircraft move into the zone, “it sometimes gets very heated,” said the official, as both sides loudly protest and reject the other’s assertions.
In a recent incident on Friday morning, a Russian aircraft conducted multiple flyovers above the at-Tanf garrison located in eastern Syria. The at-Tanf garrison serves as a training facility for Syrian allies and serves the purpose of monitoring Islamic State militant activities. According to the official, the Russian aircraft involved was identified as an An-30 and was engaged in intelligence-gathering operations focused on the base.
Notably, the United States did not have any fighter aircraft present in the vicinity during the incident and did not undertake any direct measures against the Russian flight.
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