US forces killed an ISIS leader in Syria on Friday using the same drones that Russian planes have been attacking in recent days.
The US Central Command announced on Sunday that it had eliminated Usamah al-Muhajir in an airstrike two days earlier using three MQ-9 Reaper drones.
CENTCOM said there were no indications that any civilians were killed in the attack, although the United States and its allies were evaluating reports of civilian injuries.
“We have made it clear that we remain committed to defeating ISIS throughout the region,” Commanding General Michael Kurilla said in a statement, adding: “ISIS remains a threat, not just to the region but far beyond.”
But the attack only came after Russian forces “made 18 unprofessional close passes that caused the MQ-9s to react to avoid unsafe situations.”
US Army General Michael Kurilla announced Sunday that US forces killed an ISIS leader in Syria on Friday.
A Russian SU-35 flies close to a US Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone on Wednesday over Syria
Parachute flares, which the US Air Force says were dropped by a Russian SU-35 are visible near a US Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone flying over Syria.
A Defense Department official told the Associated Press On Sunday, the three Reaper drones were flying overhead on Friday looking for the militant when they were harassed for about two hours by Russian forces.
The drones were forced to perform evasive maneuvers to avoid a dangerous situation.
Once cleared, the drones were able to target Muhajir, who was riding a motorcycle in the Aleppo region, according to the official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Although he was killed near Aleppo, al-Muhajir was operating mainly in the eastern part of the country as the terror group seeks to retake much of Syria and Iraq.
It ran a third of Syria and Iraq at its peak in 2014. The group adheres to the ultra-hardline interpretation of Islam, committing atrocities including killing thousands of Yazidis.
Since the collapse of the jihadist group’s ‘caliphate’ in 2019, three ISIS chiefs, including its founder Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, have been killed. The last to die was in October.
Some 900 US forces remain deployed in Syria to work with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces fighting Islamic State militants there.
It is unclear what al-Muhajir’s role was in the terrorist organization.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, commander of the Ninth Air Force and Combined Forces Air Component for US Central Command, said the Kremlin planes were acting “unsafe and unprofessional.” .
Friday marked the third day in a row that Russian forces attacked US drones in the area, claiming the US was violating protocol in Syrian airspace. However, a Pentagon spokesman dismissed those allegations.
On Wednesday, Air Force Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, commander of the Ninth Air Force and Combined Forces Air Component for US Central Command, said the Kremlin planes were acting in an “unsafe and unprofessional”.
This forced the US aircraft to take “evasive maneuvers”, the general said, after events that could have threatened the “security of US and Russian forces”.
“Contrary to established rules and protocols, the Russian aircraft dropped multiple parachute flares in front of the drones, forcing our aircraft into evasive manoeuvres,” Grynkewich said.
“In addition, a Russian pilot positioned his aircraft in front of an MQ-9 and activated the afterburner, reducing the operator’s ability to safely operate the aircraft.”
During the ‘unsafe’ chase, one of the Russian pilots moved his plane in front of a drone and ignited the SU-35’s afterburner, greatly increasing its speed and air pressure.
The afterburner jet blast can potentially damage the Reaper’s electronics, and Grynkewich said it reduced the drone operator’s ability to safely operate the aircraft.
The next day, Grynkewich said, Russian forces continued to drop flares in front of the drones and flew “dangerously close, jeopardizing the safety of all aircraft involved.”
US officials are now urging Russian forces to “cease this reckless behavior and adhere to the standards of behavior expected of a professional air force, so that we can resume our focus on the lasting defeat of ISIS.”