An official from the U.S. Air Force stationed in the Middle East expresses concerns regarding potential collaboration and collusion between Russia and Iran.

On Wednesday, the commander of the U.S. Air Force in the Middle East expressed concerns about Iran providing bomb-carrying drones to Russia, as it could potentially enhance Tehran’s program and increase risks in the broader Middle East region.

Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, the head of U.S. Air Force Central, described the danger potentially posed by Russia‘s “cooperation and collusion” with Iran as extending from the airspace over Syria, while Tehran threatens commercial ships in the waters of the Persian Gulf.

American pilots have already faced what they describe as more aggressive maneuvers from Russian pilots in Syria, while a new deployment of U.S. air power has been sent to protect commercial shipping in the Gulf’s key Strait of Hormuz, through which 20% of all the world’s oil passes.

“I have apprehensions regarding the increasing alliance between Russia and Iran, particularly concerning the provision of drones to Russia,” Grynkewich expressed to reporters during a press conference held at the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi. “It is quite unexpected that the Russian Federation would seek military capabilities from Iran, but it has indeed occurred. This implies that Russia is indebted to Iran in some way. I am worried about the extent of collaboration that may ensue.”

The request for comment was unanswered by Iran’s mission to the United Nations and the Russian Embassy in Washington.

Tehran has offered conflicting explanations about the drones Russia has used to target Ukraine during its war on the country, at times denying arming Moscow while also saying it provided some before the war on Ukraine began. Western nations, Ukraine and experts who have forensically examined the drones link them back to Iran and say their vast number deployed on the battlefield show a constant resupplying by Tehran.

Grynkewich said he was worried that Russian upgrades to Iran‘s drone technology could “backcast” to Tehran, making those bomb-carrying devices even more dangerous. And by Russia owing Iran for the munitions, it could return the favor by dialing up the pressure on American pilots who still fly over Syria and Iraq as part of a mission to target the remnants of the Islamic State group.

“I cannot reword”

In recent months, Russian pilots have displayed aggressive behavior by flying in close proximity to both manned F-35 fighter jets and drones in Syria. The Air Force released a public video showing a Russian pilot pouring fuel on a drone and attempting to ignite it using flares.

Grynkewich mentioned that there has been a decrease in some of that behavior in the past few weeks.

“I am not implying that our calling them out caused this change, but their behavior has become more professional since then. However, they still occasionally intercept our MQ-9 drones, but in a safer manner. I would still consider it unprofessional because it does not follow the established rules of maintaining a certain distance between us, but it is currently safe.”

The U.S. and Russia have a communication line known as the “deconfliction line” to prevent any accidental collisions or close encounters between their aircraft. About 90% of the calls are considered routine, while the remaining 10% involve intense disagreements over each other’s actions in Syria, which is still trapped in a prolonged war.

Grynkewich mentioned that there are occasions when intense discussions occur. Despite their intensity, these discussions remain professional between both parties involved.

In Syria, Grynkewich reported that there are still “hundreds” of fighters from the Russian mercenary group Wagner present, despite the death of their leader Yevgeny Prigozhin in a puzzling plane crash. Prigozhin had previously challenged Russian President Vladimir Putin during his march on Moscow.

Grynkewich mentioned that there has been some conflict between the mentioned forces and the Russian forces present. However, it seems that they have reached an agreement and will continue to work together to achieve the goals of the Russian Federation in Syria.

Over the past few weeks, there has been a significant mobilization of American sailors and Marines in the Persian Gulf area. This deployment includes the presence of F-35s, F-16s, and various other military aircraft. The main reason behind this operation is the growing apprehension about Iran’s potential threats towards shipping in the region. Additionally, the Pentagon is contemplating the idea of placing U.S. troops on commercial ships in the Strait of Hormuz.

Grynkewich said that flexible deployment likely would remain for some time, backed up by the extensive network of bases America enjoys across the region.

“I cannot reword”

However, there is increasing worry, with the arrival of the Biden administration, regarding the excessive deployment of troops in the Middle East following the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. This concern arises as Washington perceives a rising threat from China and Russia. When questioned about the objective of countering the Islamic State group, Grynkewich expressed the possibility of its gradual reduction.

“I cannot reword”

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