US has seen ‘significant spike’ in aggressive Russian military flights in Syria this month, commander says | CNN Politics

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The US has seen a โ€œsignificant spikeโ€ in aggressive Russian military flights in Syria this month, the commander of US Central Command said Thursday, two days after Russian jets harassed and collided with a US drone over the Black Sea.

Gen. Erik Kurilla told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that Russian ground-attack aircraft fly over US bases loaded with weapons โ€œin an attempt to try and be provocative.โ€ He described the Russian flights as โ€œnot what we expect of a professional air force.โ€

Asked if the aggressive flights were new, Kurilla responded, โ€œItโ€™s not new, but we have seen a significant spike since about 1 March in Syria.โ€

โ€œWhat we are seeing, though, is an increase recently in the unprofessional and unsafe behavior of the Russian air force in the region,โ€ he said.

The US has approximately 900 troops in Syria at two different bases as part of the ongoing campaign to defeat ISIS. The US and Russia have a deconfliction line between the two militaries to ensure operations do not result in a miscalculation or an unintentional escalation.

Kurilla said the Russian actions were a means of trying to โ€œrenegotiate the deconfliction protocols that they violate every day.โ€

On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said at a news conference that the US has observed a โ€œpattern of aggressive, risky and unsafe actions by Russian pilots in international airspace.โ€

Speaking alongside Austin, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said the US was analyzing the pattern of behavior โ€œto figure out exactly what the way ahead is.โ€

Milley said the aggressive operations are not just pointed at the US, but at the United Kingdom and other countries as well.

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