(CNSNews.com) – After saying for months that the U.S. is not cooperating with Russia in Syria – beyond basic air safety “deconfliction” measures – a senior military official disclosed Thursday that the Pentagon has asked Russia to avoid areas where U.S. Special Forces troops are located in northern Syria.
The U.S. and Russia are both carrying out airstrikes in Syria – the U.S. since the fall of 2014 as part of a coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and the Russians since last September targeting what it calls “terrorist” groups, in a campaign of support for the Assad regime.
Lt. Gen. Charles Brown, commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command, told reporters by video link from Qatar that areas where U.S. Special Forces troops are deployed had been made known in general terms to the Russians.
“Not specific areas, but certainly broad areas to maintain a level of safety for our forces that are on the ground,” he said.
“The areas we’ve actually identified are areas we do have coalition SOF [special operations forces] in Syria,” Brown said. “So, it’s not specific areas, but fairly broad areas, to maintain a level of safety for our forces that are there on the ground.”
Asked whether the U.S. had offered the Russians anything in exchange, Brown said that the Russians had requested – even before the Special Forces request was made – that the U.S. steer clear of airfields being used by Russia in its Syria campaign.
“Typically, we don’t fly there anyway,” he said. “So, that hasn’t been an issue.”
A reporter pointed out that the Pentagon will not tell the American people where the special forces troops are deployed, for security reasons, but is telling the Russians, then asked, “Do you have any assurances that they’re not going to provide that information to ISIS or to leak that information?”
“I don’t have any assurances, really, from the Russians,” Brown replied. “But – because all it’s going to do is escalate things. And I don’t think the Russians want to escalate against the coalition.”
Brown said he could not say whether Russia had been notified before or after the Special Forces troops went in.
“I don’t remember the exact date or time frame associated, but it was all kind of real close together,” he said.
He said the decision to tell the Russians had been made at a “higher level,” adding that it had been done “through diplomatic channels.”
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