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Pentagon Protests After U.S. Jets Intercept Russian Bombers Near Alaska

A Russian Tu-95 bomber (file photo)

The Pentagon has issued a protest after U.S. Air Force fighter jets intercepted two Russian bombers in international airspace west of the U.S. state of Alaska.

The F-22 Raptor fighters intercepted the long-range Tu-95 Bear strategic bombers overnight on September 12-13, a joint U.S.-Canadian command statement said on September 13.

The U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense (NORAD) said the four-engine Cold War-era turboprop bombers, escorted by two Russian Su-35 fighters, stayed in international airspace and never entered U.S. or Canadian zones.

The Tu-95 bombers are capable of carrying nuclear weapons, the Pentagon said.

The jets followed the Russian craft until they left the Alaska Air Defense Identification Zone.

The military monitors air traffic in the zone, which extends 320 kilometers off the Alaskan coast.

The intercept occurred at the same time as Russia’s largest-ever military maneuvers, featuring some 300,000 troops, were taking place in eastern Siberia.

NORAD commander General Terrence O'Shaughnessy said the Russian flights did not appear to be "directly part of [the maneuvers], although it is very much related to it."​

It's at least the second incident to occur this month.

Two U.S. Air Force jet fighters were scrambled on September 1 to escort a pair of Russia Tu-95 bombers that were conducting a flight over the Arctic Ocean, the Bering Sea, and the Sea of Okhotsk.

A NORAD spokesman told journalists the Russian bombers were flying "in the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone, south of the Aleutian Islands."

The Russian Defense Ministry on September 7 confirmed the incident, saying the bombers were performing "scheduled flights over neutral waters" when they were escorted by the U.S. F-22 warplanes.

Based on reporting by AFP and AP