(Bloomberg) -- The American-led military coalition in Syria said it has repositioned aircraft after Russia threatened to treat its warplanes as targets in response to the U.S. downing of a Syrian government jet.
While air support to U.S.-backed fighters against Islamic State will go on, “as a result of recent encounters involving pro-Syrian Regime and Russian forces, we have taken prudent measures to reposition aircraft over Syria,” U.S. Army Colonel Ryan Dillon, a coalition spokesman, said Monday. Coalition aircraft will continue operations against Islamic State targets “while ensuring the safety of our aircrew given known threats in the battlespace,” he said.
The U.S. moved to ease tensions after the Russian Defense Ministry threatened to “track any air targets, including the international coalition’s planes and drones, found to the west of the Euphrates river” following the downing of a Syrian Su-22 jet by a U.S. F-18 fighter on Sunday, the first such incident in the six-year war. The ministry called the attack “a cynical violation of Syria’s sovereignty” and said Russia was halting so-called deconfliction coordination with the U.S. aimed at averting air incidents.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters in Washington that “we’re going to continue to keep an open line of communications with the Russians” and the “escalation of hostilities among the many factions that are operating in this region doesn’t help anybody.” But he added that “we will retain the right of self-defense of coalition forces aligned against” Islamic State.
The mulitfaceted escalation Spicer described was underscored on Sunday when Iran -- which like Russia backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad -- fired missiles at Islamic State targets in Syria in retaliation for deadly attacks by the jihadists in Tehran on June 7.