Syria conflict: Australia suspends military air operations

Syria conflict: Australia suspends military air operations

An F/A-18E Super Hornet (similar to the one pictured) shot down the Syrian planeImage copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

An F/A-18E Super Hornet (similar to the one pictured) shot down the Syrian plane

Australia says it is temporarily suspending its military air operations over Syria, after a warning from Russia that it would treat aircraft from the US-led coalition as potential targets.

The pause was a “precautionary measure”, the government said, without giving details.

Moscow’s warning came after the US shot down a Syrian military plane.

Russia also said it was halting communications with the US aimed at preventing such incidents.

Australia has deployed about 780 military personnel as part of the US-led coalition fighting so-called Islamic State (IS) in both Iraq and Syria.

The halt in operations comes as the coalition and the fighters it is supporting on the ground attempt to oust IS militants from the city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the “caliphate” they proclaimed in 2014.

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Media captionTens of thousands have left Raqqa as fighting intensifies

“Australian Defence Force protection is regularly reviewed in response to a range of potential threats,” the defence department said in a statement.

“ADF personnel are closely monitoring the air situation in Syria and a decision on the resumption of ADF air operations in Syria will be made in due course.”

Its operations in Iraq would continue as part of the coalition, it added.

Russia warned on Monday that it would track coalition aircraft with missile systems and military aircraft, but it stopped short of openly saying it would shoot them down.

The move came after the US shot down a Syrian Su-22 which, the Pentagon said, had bombed US-backed fighters battling IS near the town of Tabqa in Raqqa province.

It was believed to be the first air-to-air kill of a manned aircraft by a US military jet since the Kosovo campaign in 1999.

But both Russia and Syria said the warplane was on a mission against IS about 40km (25 miles) south-west of Raqqa when it came under fire.

The Syrian army said the “flagrant attack” would have “dangerous repercussions”.

Russia also denied the US had used a communications channel before the Su-22 fighter bomber was shot down, as claimed by the US military.

In response, it said was ending a memorandum of co-operation with the coalition aimed at preventing air incidents and guaranteeing flight safety.