Report: U.S., Russian Militaries Hold Unprecedented Talks on Syria


Senior American and Russian military leaders reportedly met for an unprecedented, face-to-face session somewhere in the Middle East this week to discuss the growing tensions in the competing battles to retake one of the remaining Islamic State strongholds in Syria, The Associated Press reports.

Syrian government forces, Russian special forces and U.S.-backed militants are all battling ISIS around the oil-rich Deir el-Zour province, as the talks are aimed at ensuring safety for all the different fighting elements.

The Associated Press adds that the meeting also suggests an expanded U.S. and Russian effort to coordinate their efforts, raising questions about how the Pentagon is adhering to an American prohibition against military-to-military cooperation with Moscow. That law was enacted by the Congress in the wake of Russia’s annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine in 2014.

Army Colonel Ryan Dillon told Pentagon reporters on Thursday that U.S. and Russian general officers shared maps, graphics and information about where their forces are battling around Deir el-Zour. Dillon added that he was withholding the location of the meeting because there may be follow-up talks.

Asked Thursday about the growing turbulence with the Russians, Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters that the “U.S. will continue to deal with the Russians in a collaborative way.”

U.S. officials in the past, however, have shied away from using words like collaborate and coordinate, to avoid the appearance of any military-to-military relationship with Russia that would cross the congressional line, The Associated Press adds.

Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesman, said the military is complying with the law and does nothing that would constitute “cooperation” with Russian forces. As examples, he noted that the U.S. doesn’t give the Russians targeting information or combat advice and has not given their soldiers supplies or battle support.

U.S. and Russian military commanders have been routinely using a phone hotline set up during the Obama administration. Because of American legal concerns, they’ve insisted their discussions aren’t technically “cooperation”, and instead, they have said the calls are used to prevent accidents in a crowded airspace where the U.S., Russia and Syria all conduct airstrikes.

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