As Syria war tightens, US and Russia military hotlines humming
Even if tensions between the United States and Russia disappear, there is a surprising place where their military-military contacts quietly disturb the storm: Syria.
It has been four months since US President Donald Trump ordered cruise missile attacks on a Syrian airfield following a so-called chemical weapons attack.
In June, the US military shot down a Syrian fighter plane, the United States’ first defeat of an aircraft inhabited since 1999, and has also shot down two Iran-made planes that threatened the coalition forces led by the U.S.
All the time, US and Russian military officials communicate regularly, US officials told Reuters. Some of the contacts help draw a line on the map that separates US-backed forces. And Russia in parallel campaigns on the battlefields of Syria.
There is also a telephone line linking the air operations centers of Cold War veterans. US officials have told Reuters that there are now about 10 to 12 calls a day on the telephone line, which helps prevent US and Russian warplanes from supporting different fighters on the ground.
This is no small task, given the complexity of the Syrian civil war. Moscow supports the Syrian government, which is also supported by Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon, because it puts the territory of the Syrian rebels and combatants of the Islamic State.
The United States Army maintains a collection of Arab and Kurdish forces that concentrate their firepower against the Islamic state, which is part of a strategy to contract the “Caliph” self-report group in Syria and Iraq.
Reuters had little access to the United States Air Force telephone station within the combined air operations area based in Qatar last week, including the meeting of two Russian linguists, both native speakers, who serve as a US interface for The talks with the Russian commanders.
Although the talks were not easy, contacts between the two sides remained elastic, US commanders said.
“The reality is that we have worked through very difficult problems and, in general, we have found a way to maintain the deconfliction line (which separates the operational areas of the United States and Russia) and find a way to continue our Mission” “Lieutenant General Jeffrey Harrigian, the chief commander of the United States Air Force in the Middle East, said in an interview.
As both sides attempt to capture what is left of the caliphate of the Islamic state, the risk of accidental contact increases.
“We have to negotiate, and sometimes strained phone calls, because for us, this is to protect our coalition partners and destroy the enemy,” Harrigian said, without commenting on the volume of calls.
The risk of false calculations came in June when the United States toppled a Su-22 Syrian plane preparing to fire at US ground forces.
US officials, speaking anonymously, said it was not the only plane in the region. As the incident unfolded, two Russian warplanes were watching from above and an F-22 American stealth aircraft was monitoring from an even higher altitude, they told Reuters.