In an exclusive interview with Defense News, US Air Force Lt. Gen. Robert Otto condemned Russia's violation of Turkish airspace near the Syrian border, calling Moscow's incursion reckless and "inexcusable," in an exclusive interview with Defense News.

"As somebody who flew a fighter earlier in my career, I find this kind of incursion inexcusable," said Otto, deputy chief of staff for intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance, in a Tuesday interview. "It's either a sign of recklessness or unprofessionalism or intentionality — none of which are good."

Moscow is claiming one of its Su-30 warplanes briefly entered Turkish airspace during raids in Syria on Oct. 3 over the weekend due to bad weather. But Otto called this explanation "suspect," and said he believes the incursion was intentional.

"They are flying an advanced airplane and the plane has all kinds of sensors and map capability, so the notion somehow that partly cloudy weather caused them an issue is certainly suspect from our point of view," Otto said.

Turkey was forced to deploy two Turkish F-16 fighter jets to intercept the Russian plane before it exited Turkish airspace. The Turkish army also said two Turkish jets were harassed by an unidentified Mig-29 fighter jet on the Syrian border on Sunday, according to recent press reports.

This is just another example of troubling Russian aggression, Otto stressed.

During the interview, Otto called for clearer communication with Moscow over deconflicting air operations in Syria. The US and Russian militaries on Oct. 1 opened discussions about potential ways to avoid an incident as Russia ramps up operations in an already-crowded airspace, but the outcome of those meetings is unclear.

Otto also slammed Moscow's indiscriminate use of "dumb bombs," or non-precision weapons, in strikes in the region, decrying the unnecessary murder of innocent civilians. By contrast, the US is deploying primarily precision-guided bombs to avoid collateral damage, he said.

This trend is especially concerning, Otto said, because Russia is concentrating its attacks on Syrian rebels opposed to President Bashar al-Assad, many of which are backed by the West, and not terrorist groups like ISIL.

"When you are killing innocent women and children, it tends to breed unrest and civil war," Otto said. "The Russians have the effect of exacerbating the problem rather than contributing to the solution."

The US needs to do a better job of working with coalition partners to bring an end to the fighting, Otto emphasized.

"Using all of our partners that are aligned on the goal of replacing Assad in Syria is one of the things that we need to do a better job of bringing together," he said, adding that "it is important to continue to hold [Russia] accountable for what really are their intentions."


Twitter: @laraseligman

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