The spokesman for the coalition fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria confirmed to reporters at the Pentagon this morning that Turkey gave 10 warnings to Russian fighters before one was shot down over the Syrian border region today.
Col. Steve Warren, the spokesman in Iraq for Operation Inherent Resolve, also said Russia greatly “exaggerated” its claims last week to have destroyed 500 ISIS oil tankers with airstrikes.
Warren, stressing that the shootdown “is not an issue that involves Operation Inherent Resolve,” confirmed two Turkish F-16s on border patrol “engaged” two Russian Su-24s. One Russian aircraft was shot down.
The crew reportedly ejected before the crash in Syria’s Latakia province; the Defense Department couldn’t confirm reports that one of the pilots was dead.
“This goes beyond the normal struggle against terrorism. This was a stab in the back by the accomplices of terrorists,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said. “Our pilots and our plane did not in any way threaten Turkey. It is quite clear.”
Putin said the planes “were carrying out an operation against [Islamic State militants] in the mountains of northern Latakia, where militants who originate from Russian territory are concentrated. So they were carrying the key task of preventative attacks against those who could return to Russia at any time.”
Warren said today, though, that the Russians are still not focused on taking out ISIS. “Only a fraction of their attacks have been against ISIL targets,” he said. “There are no ISIL targets in that area where all this happened, anyway.”
The colonel said Russia is conducting “sloppy military work,” with a “reckless and irresponsible, imprecise and frankly uncaring approach.” He added there’s “possibly upwards of a thousand civilian casualties caused by the Russians,” including “over 100 kids.”
Warren said of the Turkey shootdown, “There were no U.S. personnel in the vicinity of this incident, so we did not observe it in any way.”
“This was purely an action that took place between the Russians and the Turks,” he said, noting that “certainly we have radars and other acquisition capabilities in place…we’re still gathering all of the facts and looking at all of the details..”
“The incident happened at the border, that much I can tell you.”
Warren stressed that “all aircraft should respect the sovereignty of nations around them.”
“The international protocol and standards and norms are well established,” he said. “There’s no reason for aircraft to be flying where they shouldn’t.”
Asked what could have been done to stop the Russian planes instead of firing, Warren said there’s a “whole range” of intercepting options including escorting — but “it’s really a matter for the Turks to talk about.”
Turkey said in a letter to the UN Security Council today that the Russian aircraft were warned 10 times in a span of five minutes, with no response. They said Turkish airspace was violated for 17 seconds, with one Russian plane leaving and the other fired at “in accordance with the rules of engagement.”
Last week, Russia released video it said showed their airstrikes to destroy 500 ISIS oil tankers. Warren said there’s no way the operation could have happened as the Kremlin claimed.
“The battle damage assessment they issued seems to us to be exaggerated,” Warren said, estimating Russian hit “under 100” tankers.
“We didn’t go through the effort to count, to do a detailed battle damage assessment,” he said, elaborating that Defense officials studied the video. “Unless the Russians are counting flattened tires and chipped paint,” Warren added, “it’s simply impossible that they — they were able to destroy 500 trucks — particularly using the imprecise and, you know, dumb bombs, dumb munitions that they used.”
“They are just using old-fashioned, mid-20th century technology and accuracy to sling lead around the battlefield. And so there’s no way that they were able to destroy 500 trucks.”
Russia has “routinely now demonstrated that their goal is to prop up and prolong the Assad regime,” the Inherent Resolve spokesman stressed, conducting strikes that are a “direct benefit” to the Assad regime.
“It’s notable the Russians started, you know, striking the trucks after we met with such stunning success. The Russians, I guess, felt like they had to try and get in on that,” Warren said.
As far as coalition efforts, Warren said “we’re seeing the impacts of our operations to defeat ISIL.” He showed video of Nov. 22 strikes near Al-Hasakah and Deir Ezzor that took out 283 oil tanker trucks. “As we did on the first tanker truck strike, we conducted another leaflet drop ahead of time to warn the civilian drivers to leave the area before that strike.”
He also showed video of a precision strike on a bridge near Ramadi to protect Iraqi forces from car bomb attacks — the vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices that are “an ISIL weapon of choice.” Targeted strikes are also focused on VBIED factories.