WASHINGTON — U.S.-coalition aircraft will “not collaborate or coordinate with the Russians” on any operations in Syria, a Pentagon spokesman said Friday, downplaying a proposal to launch joint airstrikes there.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Friday proposed the United States and Russia conduct joint airstrikes in Syria starting May 25 against the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front. Russia has targeted the group in and near Aleppo repeatedly because Nusra Front was not subject to a cease-fire that took effect in late February. The cease-fire expired May 12.
The proposed joint airstrikes also would target other groups that rejected the cease-fire and groups transporting weapons and ammunition from Turkey into Syria, Shoigu said, according to TASS, the state-owned Russian news agency.
But on Friday, Capt. Jeff Davis said the Russians have made no formal proposal for joint airstrikes.
“Where we sit today, we still are not collaborating or coordinating with the Russians on any operations in Syria,” said Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.
The United States does have an agreement with Russia since October on safety procedures, as each country conducts its own airstrikes over Syria, he said. The countries also have outlined, in general, the geographic areas where their aircraft will operate.
But Davis said that agreement is the limit of U.S.-Russia contact.
More so, the United States discontinued its military-to-military relations with Russia, including any joint exercises or port calls, in 2014, following Russia’s takeover of Crimea from the Ukraine, he said.
Russia had announced in March that it was withdrawing some of its forces from Syria after conducting thousands of airstrikes since September from Hmeimim air base near Latakia.
Most of the Russian airstrikes in Syria have targeted groups opposed to the President Bashar al-Assad regime, according to the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank. However, Russian air power did play a role in freeing the city of Palmyra, a United Nations world heritage site, from control of the Islamic State group in March, the think tank reported.
Earlier this month, Russians escorted western journalists into Syria for a tightly controlled tour of the newly liberated Palmyra. Journalists observed aircraft — at least 12 fighters and bombers — still conducting at least 20 sorties daily from Hmeimim.