Pentagon Denies Russian Claims About Coordinated Strikes In Syria
Carl Schreck January 23, 2017
The Pentagon has denied Russian state-media reports that it provided coordinates for Russian air strikes targeting Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria and that the bombing was a joint mission with U.S.-led coalition forces.
Several Russian government media outlets on January 23 quoted a Defense Ministry statement as saying that Washington used a "direct line" to relay coordinates to Russia's Khmeimim air base for strikes the previous day on targets near the town of Al-Bab in the Aleppo region.
"After conducting reconnaissance...two Russian Air Force planes and two planes from the forces of the international coalition delivered air strikes on terrorist targets," the state-run RIA Novosti agency quoted the Defense Ministry as saying.
The ministry did not post the statement on its website or its Facebook page, though state-owned news outlets RT and TASS reported on the statement using identical language in places.
The Pentagon, however, quickly denied the reports.
"The Department of Defense is not coordinating airstrikes with the Russian military in Syria," Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon told RFE/RL in an e-mailed statement. "[The] DoD maintains a channel of communication with the Russian military focused solely on ensuring the safety of aircrews and de-confliction of Coalition and Russian operations in Syria."
Another Pentagon spokesman, Adrian J.T. Rankine-Galloway, told RFE/RL, "There was no U.S. provision of targets to the Russian military and no joint coalition-Russian air strikes."
Russia and the United States have been on opposite sides of the six-year war in Syria, with Moscow backing President Bashar al-Assad, while Washington and its allies have supported some of the rebel groups he is battling.
Both Russia and the U.S.-led coalition have hit IS targets in Syria, though Washington has accused Moscow of using its operation primarily to prop up Assad.
The conflicting accounts come just days after U.S. President Donald Trump was sworn into office as Barack Obama's successor.
Trump has said repeatedly he wants to repair ties with Moscow that were badly strained over the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.
During the election campaign he said it would be "great" if the two sides could get along and "knock the hell" out of IS forces.
After Trump was sworn in, the White House said that defeating "radical Islamic terror groups" will be the top U.S. foreign-policy priority and that the United States will "pursue aggressive joint and coalition military operations when necessary" to achieve that goal.
Asked by reporters about the reported Russian announcement, White House spokesman Sean Spicer deferred questions to the Pentagon.
But, he said, "I think the president has been very clear he will work with any country who shares our interest in defeating" IS.
The Kremlin has expressed optimism about the prospects for improved bilateral relations under Trump, and Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman said on January 23 that Moscow was working to arrange a call between the two leaders.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Budapest on January 23 that the two countries' interests "obviously coincide" and that Moscow was ready to consider concrete proposals from the Trump administration.
The beginning of Trump's presidency comes amid the ongoing fallout over what U.S. intelligence calls a hacking and public-opinion influence campaign directed by Putin that aimed to help Trump defeat his rival, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, in the November 8 election.
Trump has conceded that he believes Russia was likely behind the hacking targeting Clinton's campaign but says it had no impact on the outcome.
The Kremlin has dismissed the allegations.
With reporting by Interfax, Reuters, and TASS
Copyright (c) 2017. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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