The United States and Russian military officials met face-to-face in an undisclosed location and decided to open a new communication channel for ground forces on "de-confliction measures" to retake one of the remaining Islamic State strongholds in Syria, the Pentagon said on 22 September.
"The discussions emphasised the need to share operational graphics and locations to ensure that prevention of accidental targeting or other possible frictions that would distract from the defeat of ISIS," Washington Post quoted Ryan Dillon, a Baghdad-based spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, at a Pentagon briefing.
Syrian government forces, Russian special forces and U.S.-backed militants are all battling IS around the oil-rich Deir el-Zour province.In addition to a longstanding phone line that U.S. and Russian air forces use to "de-conflict" their operations over Syria, a new link has been in operation between the top U.S. and Russian ground commanders in the region for "over a month now," coalition spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon told reporters.
The military is at pains to use the word "de-confliction" to describe both lines, since "cooperation" and "coordination" with the Russian military are forbidden under U.S. law.
On the ground in Syria, American and Russian special operations teams still do not communicate with each other directly, even though they are working in close proximity with Syrian forces to close in on remaining Islamic State strongholds. There are no "tactical level engagements on the ground with their counterparts," Dillon said of the U.S. special operations teams. "It's at a higher level than that."
According to Dillion, the de-confliction telephone lines include an air-to-air line, a line "talking ground stuff," and another line "that is between the commanders of the two sides.The U.S. and Russian ground forces in Syria have been using telephone lines in the past month or so to ensure the forces don't fire on each other.
Russia suspended its communication with American forces in Syria after a U.S. launched missile strikes on a Syrian Air Force base to punish the regime of Bashar Assad for a chemical weapon attack.But U.S. officials have insisted that the links have been maintained since the initial phone line was set up in 2015.