U.S. moving F-15C fighter jets intended for air-to-air combat allegedly to fight ISIS, but ISIS has no planes, so are we going to war with Russia?

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On November 3rd, U.S. Defense Department spokesperson Laura Seal confirmed that twelve F-15C air-to-air combat planes are being sent to the Incirlik Turkey Air Base for deployment in Syria against Russia’s Su-30 air-to-air combat planes. Neither the F-15C nor the Su-30 can destroy ground-targets, only air-targets — enemy planes.

The Daily Beast  The U.S. Air Force is deploying to Turkey up to a dozen jet fighters specializing in air-to-air combat—apparently to help protect other U.S. and allied jets from Russia’s own warplanes flying over Syria.

Officially, the deployment of F-15C Eagle twin-engine fighters to Incirlik, Turkey—which the Pentagon announced late last week—is meant to “ensure the safety” of America’s NATO allies, Laura Seal, a Defense Department spokesperson, told The Daily Beast.

That could mean that the single-seat F-15s and the eight air-to-air missiles they routinely carry will help the Turkish air force patrol Turkey’s border with Syria, intercepting Syrian planes and helicopters that periodically stray into Turkish territory.

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But more likely, the F-15s will be escorting attack planes and bombers as they strike ISIS militants in close proximity to Syrian regime forces and the Russian warplanes that, since early October, have bombed ISIS and U.S.-backed rebels fighting the Syrian troops. Seal declined to discuss the deployment in detail, but hinted at its true purpose. “I didn’t say it wasn’t about Russia,” she said.

Russia’s air wing in western Syria is notable for including several Su-30 fighters that are primarily air-to-air fighters. The Su-30s’ arrival in Syria raised eyebrows, as Moscow insists its forces are only fighting ISIS, but ISIS has no aircraft of its own for the Su-30s to engage.

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In other words, U.S. President Barack Obama is telling Russian President Vladimir Putin that unless Putin is willing to go to war against the United States, he must stop what he’s now doing in Syria. Obama is saying this in the only language whose meaning cannot be denied or misinterpreted: sending in counter-force to specifically what Russia has already sent into Syria.

If it were not the case that both the F-15C and the Su-30 are equipped only for air-to-air-combat, then the meaning of Obama’s move here wouldn’t be so clear and unambiguous. Ms. Seal made her point even clearer by volunteering to tell The Daily Beast’s reporter David Axe, “I didn’t say it wasn’t about Russia.” Axe then commented in his article, that this statement of hers “hinted at its the deployment’s true purpose.” But one would need to be a fool in order to deny it. The only real question here is why Obama has made this decision, which is quite likely to be fateful. So: that’s the subject: Why did he do this?

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The F-15s the U.S. Air Force is sending to Turkey will be the first American warplanes in the region that are strictly aerial fighters. F-15s only carry air-to-air weaponry, and their pilots train exclusively for shooting down enemy warplanes. It’s worth noting that F-15Cs have never deployed to Afghanistan, nor did they participate in the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq. The war in Syria is different.

The dogfighters are part of a broader escalation of the air war over Syria. In addition to jets in Jordan, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates, and Navy and Marine planes aboard aircraft carriers, the U.S. Air Force recently added A-10 attack jets and rescue planes and helicopters at Incirlik in Turkey.

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But the Pentagon has not said it will enforce a no-fly zone over northern Syria in order to protect pro-U.S. rebels from Syrian—and Russian—warplanes. “It is something obviously, you know has been in the conversation, and has been in the discussion, but today’s announcements are not keyed any way to the beginning or start of a no-fly zone,” the unnamed official said.

Such a zone could compel F-15s and other U.S. planes to directly confront Russian planes, even though—in theory—both air forces are attacking ISIS. Russia and the United States do make efforts to steer their jets away away from possible collisions, but otherwise do not collaborate in their separate air wars in Syria.

And now the United States will have fighter jets in Syria whose main job could be to watch out for Russians. 

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