US and Russian Forces in Syria Aren’t Talking to Each Other

CENTCOM says it has “no military-to-military contact” with Russian forces sent to help the embattled Assad regime.

In Syria, where the U.S. is leading an air campaign against Islamic State targets and Russian military advisors are arriving to help the Assad regime, the two militaries aren’t talking to each other.

“Coalition forces are focused on conducting counter-ISIL operations, and so to my knowledge there is no military-to-military contact at this point,” Air Force Col. Pat Ryder, spokesman for U.S. Central Command, told reporters Friday morning.

“We’re keeping an eye on the Russian situation there, but right now again there’s really no deconfliction to do,” Ryder said, answering a question about how U.S. and anti-ISIS coalition forces and the Russian military are keeping out of each other’s way in Syria. “I think what you’re getting at is: [deconfliction] in the event there’s some type of Russian military or air activity, but again, I’m not going to speculate or talk about hypotheticals. Certainly, we have very professional air forces, and the coalition is going to ensure the safety of those forces where we operate.”

But Russia’s military presence in Syria, at least, is no longer hypothetical. Just hours before Ryder’s press briefing, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed that Moscow had sent troops and equipment to help its longtime client, Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, fight ISIS. Lavrov declined to confirm a Reuters report that the Russian troops had seen combat, but he did warn the U.S. about a growing risk of “unintended incidents” if the countries’ militaries did not cooperate in Syria.

James Stavridis, former Supreme Allied Commander at NATO and now dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, said the absence of military-to-military contact is troubling.

“It is very dangerous to have both Russian and U.S. troops in a confined battle space, essentially on opposite sides of a civil war, without contact for deconfliction of any combat or support activities,” Stavridis said. “Open communication at the strategic and tactical level are both important.”

Risk Is Growing

Lavrov blamed Washington for severing military ties after Russia annexed Crimea and invaded Ukraine, fracturing a “professional” relationship that had for years been “important for the avoidance of undesired, unintended incidents.”

“They understand each other very well,” he said of U.S. brass and their Russian counterparts. “If, as John Kerry has said many times, the United States wants those channels frozen, then be our guest.”

Full article: US and Russian Forces in Syria Aren’t Talking to Each Other (Defense One)

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