Amid heightened conflicts between opposing U.S.- and Russian-backed forces in Syria’s civil war, top generals from both countries held their first ever face-to-face meeting this week to avoid military escalation, Pentagon officials said.
The meeting, the first of its kind between the two countries since Syria’s civil war began in 2011, was an attempt by both sides to coordinate their independent military actions against the Islamic State, a common foe in the multilateral conflict.
Russia has long propped up forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The United States has aligned itself with some moderate rebels in the opposition, but has focused its military action on fighting Islamic State terrorists.
Amid the chaos of the conflict, Islamic State fighters managed to gain control over a large swath of Syria, naming the city of Raqqa as the capital of its self-declared caliphate.
In recent days, both the United States and Russia have accused each other of engineering attacks against forces loyal to the other, despite pledges by both sides to focus efforts instead on stamping out terrorist elements at work in Syria. To avoid further escalation, military leaders at the meeting literally mapped out whose forces were where, a Pentagon spokesman said Thursday.
“They had a face-to-face discussion, laid down maps and graphics,” U.S. Army Col. Ryan Dillon said.
Defense Secretary James Mattis said the meeting was productive, and expressed confidence the ground rules established would be beneficial.
“I am not worried. We continue to deal with the Russians in a collaborative way. We’ll sort this out,” he said.
Friday, Russia’s defense ministry announced a Black Fleet submarine — operating in the Mediterranean — fired cruise missiles at terrorist targets in Syria.
“The missiles targeted recently detected defensive posts, concentration of personnel and hardware as well as ammunition depots of Jabhat al-Nusra in Idlib province,” the ministry said.
Moscow said the terrorist group was responsible for attempting to capture a band of Russian soldiers fighting with Syrian government forces in Idlib, a province still under rebel control.
“This surprise missile attack in the province of Idlib eliminated critical control points, training bases and armored vehicles that had been involved in attempt to seize 29 Russian Military Police servicemen in the north of Hama province,” the ministry statement said.
“All the targets were confirmed to have been engaged.”
By Eric DuVall