In recent weeks, Russian fighter jets have repeatedly harassed U.S. unmanned MQ-9 drones, but the latest incident has raised alarms because it endangered American lives.
Officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details of a military operation, would not say how close the Russian jet got to the US warplane. The MC-12, which is a twin-engine turboprop aircraft routinely used by special operations forces, was carrying out surveillance in support of operations against Islamic State groups in Syria, officials said.
On several occasions in the past two weeks, Russian fighters have flown perilously close to MQ-9 Reapers, triggering flares and forcing the drones into evasive maneuvers. US and Russian military officers frequently communicate on a deconflict phone line during meetings, protesting the other side’s actions.
The United States is evaluating a number of military options to deal with mounting Russian aggression in the skies over Syria, which complicated efforts to target an Islamic State group leader earlier this month, according to a senior defense official. Eventually the US was able to launch an attack and kill the militant.
The official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the military operations, declined to detail the options under consideration, but said the United States would not cede any territory and would continue to fly to the western part of the country on anti- Islamic state .
Russian military activity, which has increased in frequency and aggression since March, stems from growing cooperation and coordination between Moscow, Tehran and the Syrian government to try to pressure the United States to leave Syria.
There are about 900 US forces in the country, with more coming in and out to conduct missions against militants of the Islamic State group.