US military denies coordinating Syria air strikes with Russia
WASHINGTONThe Pentagon on Jan. 23 denied that it had coordinated air strikes with Russia in Syria, after Russia’s Defense Ministry said the United States had provided coordinates for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants.
The Russian Defense Ministry said the Russian military had received coordinates of ISIL targets near al-Bab, Syria from the “American side” of the U.S.-led coalition fighting the militant group on Jan. 22.
“Two Russian air force planes and two planes of the [U.S.-led] international coalition carried out air strikes against terrorist sites,” destroying arms and fuel dumps in the “joint operation,” the ministry said, according to The Associated Press.
“As a result of this joint operation, a number of ammunition depots as well as an area where militants had gathered with equipment, were destroyed,” the Russian defense ministry was quoted by TASS news agency as saying.
The Pentagon denied that.
“The Department of Defense is not coordinating air strikes with the Russian military in Syria,” Reuters quoted Eric Pahon, a Pentagon spokesman, as saying.
Pahon said the Defense Department had a channel of communication with the Russian military that was solely focused on avoiding collisions in the airspace over Syria.
Russia and the United States back opposing sides in the Syrian conflict, with Moscow supporting President Bashar al-Assad and Washington providing backing to some Sunni Muslim rebels.
Separately, the United States is also leading an international coalition carrying out air strikes against ISIL.
U.S. Air Force Col. John Dorrian, a coalition spokesman, almost immediately labeled the Russian claim as propaganda.
U.S. Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said the U.S. does have routine “deconfliction” talks with Russia to avoid unintended aerial incidents in Syria’s crowded skies. But Davis says there have been no changes to that arrangement, and the U.S. has insisted for months that it has no coordination or sharing of targets with Russia.
When asked whether the United States would be open to joint military action with Russia in Syria, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said during a news conference on Jan. 23: “If there is a way that we can combat ISIS with any country, whether it is Russia or anyone else and we have a shared national interest in that, sure we’ll take it.”
U.S. President Donald Trump frequently said during his campaign that he wants to work with Russia to fight ISIL, which holds territory in Iraq and Syria, and other militant groups.