Pentagon: No contact with Russian forces in Syria

In this Feb. 7, 2012 file photo, Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, shakes hands with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov after talks in Damascus, Syria. Lavrov said Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, that Russian aircraft flying into Syria have been delivering weapons along with humanitarian supplies.


By TARA COPP | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 11, 2015

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon said Friday that it has had “no military to military contact” with Russia as the country builds up aircraft and ground forces in Syria to support President Bashar Assad.

Col. Pat Ryder, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said while the U.S. is “keeping an eye on the Russian situation there,” neither U.S. nor coalition forces have contacted Russian forces to prevent any miscalculation or miscommunication that could put pilots on both sides at risk.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest called Russia’s buildup in Syria “counterproductive.” When asked why the U.S. would not potentially partner with Russia if the country is similarly targeting the Islamic State, Earnest said, “The true intentions of the Russians … are unclear. It is hard to tell exactly what they are planning to do.”

The U.S. has for months tried to train and equip Syrian moderates – forces that might have opposed or fought against Assad’s regime in the now four-year-old civil war – who have been vetted and promised not to use the weapons and training to go after Assad. So far, the program has been unsuccessful. The Pentagon on Friday refuted reports that all 54 of the members of the first training group were dead or missing: “There are New Syrian Forces from the first classes operating in Syria.” Three more groups are in training now, but the Pentagon would provide no details on the numbers of forces or when they would complete the training.

U.S. and coalition aircraft continue to fly daily sorties over Syria, according to the Pentagon. Since Sunday, U.S. and coalition aircraft have conducted 21 airstrikes over Islamic State targets, and based on the way the Pentagon defines airstrikes, that typically means a much larger number of sorties than the number of airstrikes reported.

Twitter @TaraCopp