The United States is boosting its use of combat aircraft around the strategic Strait of Hormuz to protect ships from Iranian takeovers, a senior defense official said on Friday, adding that the United States is increasingly concerned about the growing ties between Iran and Russia. and Syria across the Middle East.
Speaking to Pentagon reporters, the official said the US will send F-16 fighter jets to the Gulf region this weekend to reinforce the A-10 attack aircraft that have been patrolling there for more than a week. This step comes next Iran tried to seize two oil tankers Near the strait last week, they opened fire on one of them.
The defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to provide details of military operations in the area, said the F-16s would provide air cover for ships moving through the waterway and would increase the military’s visibility in the area, as a deterrent to Iran. .
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In both cases, the US Navy said, Iranian naval vessels retreated when the destroyer USS McFaul arrived on the scene.
In addition, the defense official told reporters that the United States is studying a number of military options to counter the growing Russian aggression in the skies of Syria, which complicated efforts to strike the leader of the Islamic State group last weekend. The official declined to elaborate on the options, but said the United States would not cede any territory and would continue to fly in the western part of the country on missions against the Islamic State group.
The official explained that the Russian military activity, which has escalated in pace and aggression since March, stems from the growing cooperation and coordination between Moscow, Tehran and the Syrian government to try to pressure the United States to leave Syria.
The official said Russia is beholden to Iran for its support in the war in Ukraine, and that Tehran wants the United States out of Syria so it can more easily funnel lethal aid to Lebanon’s Hezbollah and threaten Israel. The official added that the United States has seen more collaboration, cooperation, planning and intelligence sharing, largely between mid-level Russian and Iranian Quds Force commanders in Syria, to pressure the United States to withdraw forces from Syria.
There are about 900 American soldiers in the country, and others are in and out to do so Missions targeting ISIS operatives.
The United States does not believe that Russian aircraft plan to drop bombs on American forces or to shoot down manned aircraft. But the official said there were concerns about Russian pilots shooting down a Reaper drone, and that Moscow believed that this type of action would not garner a strong US military response.
For example, in March, a Russian warplane poured jet fuel on a US reconnaissance drone and then struck its propeller, forcing the US military to dump its MQ-9 Reaper in the Black Sea. The incident exacerbated tensions between the two countries and prompted a call between their defense chiefs, but it did not lead to a direct military response.
Last week, Rear Admiral Oleg Gorinov, head of the Russian Reconciliation Center in Syria, said that the Russian and Syrian armies are conducting joint exercises. In remarks reported by Syrian state media, he said Moscow was concerned about the US-led coalition flying drones over northern Syria, describing them as “systematic violations of protocols” aimed at avoiding clashes between the two armies.
American and Russian military commanders routinely communicate via a deconfliction phone line that has been in place for several years to avoid unintended clashes in Syria, where both sides have forces on the ground and in the air.
There are often several calls a day, the US official said, sometimes resulting in angry threats as commanders argue over an ongoing operation. Describing a conversation, the official said the Russians would often declare an area of space a restricted area of operations and say they conduct military exercises there.
The United States sees no maneuvers, telling Russia that American forces are on a counterterrorism mission against the Islamic State and plan to fly in that area. Then the Russians say they can’t guarantee the safety of American planes if they go there. Once the mission gets under way, and the plane moves into the area, “the heat gets really hot sometimes,” the official said, as both sides protest loudly and dismiss the other’s assertions.
The latest incident was on Friday morning, when a Russian plane repeatedly flew over the al-Tanf barracks in eastern Syria, where US forces are training Syrian allies and monitoring Islamic State activity. The official said the Russian An-30 was gathering intelligence on the base.
The United States had no combat aircraft in the area and took no direct action against the Russian flight.
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