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Official: Despite short notice of Russian airstrikes, US, coalition flights in Syria unaffected

A safety observer gives the approval for an F/A-18F Super Hornet to launch on the flight deck aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt on Sept. 7, 2015. Theodore Roosevelt is deployed in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of conducing strike operations in Iraq and Syria.

STEPHANE BELCHER/U.S. NAVY

By TARA COPP | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 30, 2015

WASHINGTON — A U.S official at the Pentagon on Wednesday criticized Russian leaders for giving a one hour’s notice before launching airstrikes in Syria.

That is “not how responsible nations do business,” said the official, who spoke on the condition he not be named.

The 60-minute notice was the only “de-confliction” warning U.S. and coalition aircraft received — a notice that could help identify locations of flights in order to protect pilots from collision or misunderstandings.

State Department spokesman John Kirby confirmed the one hour’s notice provided to the U.S. Embassy.

“A Russian official in Baghdad this morning informed U.S. Embassy personnel that Russian military aircraft would begin flying anti-ISIL missions today over Syria,” Kirby said. “He further requested that U.S. aircraft avoid Syrian airspace during these missions.”

The Russians did not identify a specific target, the U.S. official said. However, he said, U.S. and coalition airstrikes against the Islamic State continued, and the short notice did not affect operations.

On Wednesday, Russian aircraft targeted Homs, about 100 miles to the southeast of Russia’s new air base at Latakia. The U.S. official pointed out Homs is not an Islamic State-controlled city but held by rebels associated with the Free Syrian Army.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has faced increased pressure to engage in discussions with his Russian defense counterparts on de-conflicting air operations over Syria since Russia began its buildup at Latakia last month. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said they are there to engage against the Islamic State.

Carter said Wednesday that the two sides have agreed to send representatives to meet and discuss de-conflicting their air operations. The talks are expected “within days.”

"This is not the kind of behavior that we should expect professionally from the Russian military," Carter said about the short notice of airstrikes. 

The meetings are expected “to facilitate the flow of information between coalition forces and Russian elements that will help us maintain the safety of our personnel in the region, which is critical,” he said.

Even without an agreement on de-confliction, Carter said U.S. and coalition airstrikes in Syria would not be affected by Russian launches.

“We intend to continue our air operations unimpeded,” he said.

On Monday, Gen. Philip Breedlove, commander of U.S. European Command, said it was evident to him that the Russian military buildup’s goal is not to fight the Islamic State, but to defend ally Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“We see some very sophisticated air defenses going into these airfields. We see some very sophisticated air-to-air aircraft going into these airfields,” Breedlove said Monday, according to CNN.

copp.tara@stripes.com
Twitter: @TaraCopp

 

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