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Retired senior U.S. military pilots expressed alarm at Hillary Clinton’s proposal for “no-fly zones” in Syria, saying the policy would increase the likelihood of a destructive military confrontation with Russia.

“I’m going to continue to push for a no-fly zone and safe havens within Syria, not only to help protect the Syrians and prevent the constant outflow of refugees, but to, frankly, gain some leverage on both the Syrian government and the Russians so that perhaps we can have the kind of serious negotiation necessary to bring the conflict to an end and go forward on a political track,” Clinton said in last week’s third and final presidential debate.

U.S. officials openly regard the risk of an aerial confrontation with the Russians as severe.

“I wouldn’t put it past them to shoot down an American aircraft,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told The Guardian on Tuesday.

The Guardian reports:

Those who have patrolled no-fly zones over the relatively freer skies of Bosnia and Saddam-era Iraq fear that a President Clinton would oblige the US to what one retired US air force three-star general described as an indefinite “air occupation”. Such a move would risk the lives of US pilots – and dare confrontation with a Russian military which is more aggressive than it has been in years. …

[S]ince they operate over different parts of the country and with different objectives – the US in the east against the Islamic State, Russia to the west against Assad’s opposition – a US-imposed no-fly zone would put [the countries’] objectives into conflict. No one knows how either side would respond if Russian aircraft violated a US air cordon, nor how to de-escalate a clash before it spiraled into extended combat. …

[S]trategists have a hard time understanding how a no-fly zone provides the US with a large enough leverage to trade with Assad or Russia, given their objective is, respectively, self-preservation and the preservation of a client.

“I don’t understand how a no-fly zone gets you to a political settlement. There’s no history supporting that. There were no-fly zones in Iraq for close to a decade and it settled nothing,” said Joshua Rovner of Southern Methodist University.

“I wish this would be the kind of leverage she seems to hope it is, but I don’t see why this would pose a serious threat to Assad or Putin. It’s accepting a lot of new costs with very few benefits.”

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly

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