Pentagon: No more talks with Russia over safety risks for pilots over Syria

Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook.


By TARA COPP | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 22, 2015

WASHINGTON — As Russia finishes its first major airbase in Syria with more than two dozen warplanes and new satellite imagery shows two more bases in the works, the Pentagon said Tuesday that Secretary of Defense Ash Carter does not plan to discuss deconflicting U.S. and coalition aircraft there without more Russian dialogue on political alternatives.

Carter had his first conversation Friday with his Russian counterpart, defense minister Sergei Shoigu. The two spoke at the behest of Russia, which has rapidly built an airbase in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad. On the Friday phone call, the defense leaders discussed their commitment to fight the Islamic State and began the dialogue necessary to reduce the risk to U.S., Russian and coalition pilots flying simultaneous missions over Syria’s skies.

The next discussion on deconfliction would depend on the Russians coming to the table with political options beyond bolstering the current Assad regime, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said Friday.

“If the Russians want to have conversations” with Carter, he “wants to hear more on the Russian side” on potential solutions, Cook said.

Since the first conversation, the Russians have rapidly added attack aircraft to the new base near Latakia, estimated to be two dozen airframes based on news reports and satellite imagery.

Meanwhile, U.S. and coalition aircraft continue to enter Syrian airspace to conduct airstrikes against Islamic State targets, some in close proximity to the Russian presence.

Since Sept. 18, U.S. and coalition aircraft have conducted 16 airstrikes in Syria. In the strikes reported on Sept. 18, which include all activity the 24 hours before the phone call, coalition aircraft hit Tal Abyad, a city about 250 miles away from Latakia. On Sept. 19, the day after the call, U.S. and coalition aircraft reported no airstrikes in Syria. On Sept. 20 and Sept. 21, 11 airstrikes were conducted, with one on Mar'a, about 150 miles from Latakia.

Based on the way that the U.S. reports airstrikes, there are typically many more aircraft flying sorties than the number of airstrikes recorded.

Cook would not acknowledge the airpower build-up in Syria and would not discuss the need for deconfliction if Russia begins launching airstrikes, noting that he would not discuss “hypotheticals.”

Twitter: @TaraCopp