American and Russian military officials are still in communication with each other over a dedicated "de-conflicting" line for operations in Syria, despite an attack by forces including Russian mercenaries on a base in Syria housing Americans and a devastating, deadly retaliation by the U.S.-led coalition.
Gen. Joseph L. Votel, chief of U.S. Central Command, whose area of responsibility includes Syria and Iraq, told lawmakers today that nothing has changed with regard to the channel and that there remains a "very professional military discussion." The line, he said, "remains an effective way to de-conflict our forces."
The U.S.-Russia de-conflicting line was set up in late 2015 in Qatar and allows air traffic controllers and senior military officers on each side to be in contact with their counterparts in order to avoid mid-air collisions or other incidents, according to The Associated Press.
The question about the communications line came in the wake of a pair of incidents in Syria that threatened any good will between Washington and Moscow. Early this month pro-Syrian regime forces, including a number of Russian private military contractors, launched what the U.S. called an "unprovoked attack" on a main rebel facility where U.S. troops were known to be co-located. The assault was unsuccessful and the U.S.-led forces responded with devastating counter, reportedly killing scores of pro-regime forces, including Russian mercenaries.
It was a sequence of events that easily could have set the U.S. and Russia on a path to more direct (and official) conflict, but in the weeks since, both sides have sought to downplay the whole thing. The Russian government first denied large numbers of Russians had been killed and repeatedly reminded reporters that even if there were, they were civilians and decidedly not Russian military forces. Senior U.S. officials haven't pressed the issue either.
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