The Pentagon has asked Russia to stay away from parts of northern Syria to protect U.S. Special Operations Forces there, according to military officials.
The acknowledgment shows a level of cooperation with Russia despite the Pentagon’s repeated insistence that it is not coordinating with Moscow. Both have been managing air campaigns over Syria for months.
Lieutenant General Charles Brown, the leader of U.S. Air Force Central Command, which overseas bombing and air surveillance against Islamic State fighters in the Middle East, told reporters Thursday via teleconference that Moscow was asked to avoid “broad areas” in Syria “to maintain a level of safety” for the approximately 50 U.S. special operators helping local forces who are fighting IS.
“It was a reasonable request to make,” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook told reporters.
Cook said the Pentagon request had “so far been honored” by the Russians.
Brown added that Moscow had requested the U.S.-led coalition stay away from some airfields in Syria that Russia’s military was using in its air campaign.
“Typically, we don’t fly there anyway, so that hasn’t been an issue,” he said.
The United States has led an international coalition against Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria since mid-2014.
Russia entered the Syria conflict nearly five months ago. Moscow says it has been targeting the Islamic State group and “other terrorists,” but the U.S. and international rights groups say Moscow mostly has bombed civilians and rebels fighting embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Russia and the United States signed a memorandum of understanding last October that provided a framework for both countries’ aircraft to maintain a “safe distance” from one another while operating over Syria.
Cook said the Russians requested that the full agreement, which covers all types of manned and unmanned aircraft over Syria, not be shared publicly.