The Pentagon stood its ground in response to a Russian threat to treat its aircraft as military targets in Syria Monday, and vowed that US pilots would continue to operate as they have and that they will defend themselves against even Russian threats.
"We do not seek conflict with any party in Syria other than ISIS, but we will not hesitate to defend ourselves or our partners if threatened," Pentagon spokesperson Capt. Jeff Davis told The Washington Examiner.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford also expressed confidence that US pilots could take care of themselves.
"I'm confident that we are still communicating between our operations center and the Russia federation operations center -- and I'm also confident that our forces have the capability to take care of themselves," Dunford said.
Department of Defense spokesperson Maj. Adrian J.T. Rankine-Galloway said coalition aircraft would continue to conduct "operations throughout Syria, targeting ISIS forces and providing air support for Coalition partner forces on the ground," and that their operations would not be changed in light of the Russian threat,
"As a result of recent encounters involving pro-Syrian Regime and Russian forces, we have taken prudent measures to re-position aircraft over Syria so as to continue targeting ISIS forces while ensuring the safety of our aircrew given known threats in the battlespace," Rankine-Galloway said in a statement.
Moscow earlier stated that: “Any aircraft, including the international coalition’s planes and drones, discovered west of the river Euphrates, will be accompanied by ground and air-based anti-aircraft defenses as aerial targets.”
The US had stated that its F-18 Super Hornet fighter had acted in “collective self-defense” when it shot down a Syrian SU-22 that had attacked a site near Tabqa occupied by members of the Syrian Democratic Forces yesterday.
Russia, which supports the government of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad militarily, called the downing of the Syrian plane an "act of aggression" and a violation of international law.
“This, if you like, is help for the terrorists that the US are fighting under what they call their anti-terrorism policy,” said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.