Wednesday, November 11, 2015
U.S. fighter jets sent to Turkey to protect Americans, deter Russians
The Pentagon has deployed fighter jets to Turkey to protect slow-flying U.S. attack planes hitting Islamic State targets in Syria and to deter Russian aggression in the region, a Defense official said Tuesday.
The F-15Cs will provide cover for bombers, attack and cargo planes from Syrian and Russian fighters, said a Defense official who spoke about that role on condition of anonymity, because officials were not authorized to discuss the role of the aircraft.
B-1 bombers, A-10 and AC-130 attack planes — all being used to strike Islamic State, or ISIL, targets in Syria — are vulnerable to attack from enemy fighters, the official said. Cargo planes that drop ammunition to counter-ISIL fighters also require protection.
The deployment of fighters designed to shoot down enemy aircraft is more careful planning than provocation, said David Deptula, a retired fighter pilot and Air Force three-star general who is now dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.
"Prudent planners cover all potential contingencies," Deptula said. "That said, conflict with Russia in not something the U.S. or Russia wants to see occur."
The Pentagon announced the deployment of fighters to Turkey late last month as part of its revamped strategy to confront ISIL in Syria. Six more F-15E model aircraft will be sent to Incirlik Air Base. Their role will be to hit targets on the ground in Syria. In addition, 50 U.S. special operations troops will be sent to Syria to advise local forces. Peter Cook, the Pentagon press secretary, declined Tuesday to say when those troops would be on the ground in Syria.
The six F-15Cs, single-seat fighters that accounted for the vast majority of Iraqi planes shot down in the first Gulf War, were sent last week to Incirlik.
"At the request of the government of Turkey, the U.S. Air Force F-15Cs that arrived last week will conduct combat air patrols to assist in defense of the Turkish airspace," Laura Seal, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement Tuesday. "We will be conducting these patrols at the request of the Government of Turkey.
Turkey faces increased instability along its border with Syria and Iraq and irresponsible behavior from actors in the region. This includes the incursions Russia made into Turkey's — and thereby NATO's — airspace in October."
In early October, Russian SU-30 and SU-24 warplanes based in Syria strayed into Turkish airspace despite warnings from Turkish officials, according to NATO. Turkish F-16s were scrambled to shoo them away.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has sent thousands of troops and military hardware to Syria late this summer to bolster the regime of Bashar Assad, whose authority was slipping in his war-ravaged country.
U.S. and Russian military officials have opened communications to prevent mid-air accidents.