WASHINGTON: US and Russian military officials talk twice daily about air operations in Syria, as the two powers conduct separate bombing campaigns in the battered nation, a top US general said Tuesday.
Four-star Air Force General Herbert Carlisle outlined how communications have vastly improved since the start of Russia’s bombing campaign in Syria on September 30.
Moscow only gave a vague, last-minute verbal notification it was about to launch air strikes, prompting an angry response from the Pentagon, which worried about US and Russian jets slamming into each other.
“They talk twice a day, there’s a hotline,” Carlisle told military reporters at a Washington event.
“Everybody is interested in safety of flight and everybody is interested in not getting into dangerous situations or miscalculations. If you look at what’s going on, it has improved since they (the Russians) came.”
In the days after Russia’s bombing campaign began, Pentagon and Moscow officials drew up a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on flight safety guidelines specifying how pilots should act if they cross paths.
“The MOU has established a safer environment and done everything we can to prevent miscalculation or an accident or safety challenge,” Carlisle said.
Russia says its air strikes primarily target Islamic State jihadists, though the United States and its coalition partners say Moscow is mainly attacking more moderate groups fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s army.
The Pentagon stresses that communicating with Russia does not mean it is swapping intel or planning military action with Moscow.
“We don’t have plans at this point to coordinate any activity with the Russians, in part because of their actions so far in Syria to support the Assad regime, their failure so far to focus their efforts” against the IS, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said Tuesday.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter last month said the US-led coalition would intensify its bombing campaign in Syria and Iraq and carry out more ground raids.
On Friday, six F-15C fighter jets arrived at the Incirlik air base in Turkey. These will help Turkey patrol its sovereign airspace.
Additional F-15E planes, which have air-to-ground capabilities, are en route to Incirlik to be used in the fight against IS jihadists, Cook said.