Australia announced on Tuesday that it is suspending air strikes in Syria, following the US downing of a Syrian military jet over the weekend, and Moscow’s subsequent threats to US-led coalition aircraft.
On Monday, Russia said that any aircraft from the US-led coalition west of the Euphrates river in Syria would be viewed as potential targets, and would be tracked with missile systems.
Sunday marked the first time during the six-year war that the US has brought down a Syrian military jet.
Moscow, which has condemned the American step, said it was immediately pulling out of a joint de-confliction agreement with Washington, designed to avoid collisions.
However, a British government spokesperson on Tuesday told MiddleEast Eye that de-confliction measures are ongoing.
“As a precautionary measure, Australian Defence Force (ADF) strike operations into Syria have temporarily ceased,” Australia’s Department of Defence said in a statement on Tuesday.
But the British Ministry of Defence said it had no plans to do the same.
“Air operations continue and de-confliction measures are ongoing,” a government spokesperson told MEE.
De-confliction measures ongoing
“We call on Russia to continue to use these measures. We want all parties to focus on the fight against Daesh in Iraq and Syria,” the spokesperson said, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.
Moscow accused Washington of failing to honor the security cooperation pact by not informing it of the decision to shoot down the Syrian plane despite Russian aircraft being airborne at the same time.
Washington hit back, saying it would “do what we can to protect our interests.”
The US Central Command said the downed Syrian military jet had been dropping bombs near US-backed SDF forces in the town of al-Rasafa, outside of Raqqa.
The town is just west of the Euphrates, but most of the US-led coalition’s focus against IS has been east of the symbolic river.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the United States was working to restore the “deconfliction” communications line with Russia.
Marine General Joseph Dunford said there were still communications between a US air operations center in Qatar and Russian forces on the ground in Syria, adding: “We’ll work diplomatically and military in the coming hours to re-establish deconfliction.”
Australia confirmed that operations in Iraq would continue.
“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,” Australia’s Department of Defence said.
“Australian Defence Force protection is regularly reviewed in response to a range of potential threats,” it said.
The Syrian government has said that the US move “reveals with no doubt the truth about the US support of terrorism,” according to state media.