The U.S. Military Just Froze Its Plans To Cooperate With Russia In Syria

21 September 2016

U.S. defense officials say plans to launch joint military operations with Russia are on hold because continued violence in Syria has broken the seven-day cease-fire agreement reached by the U.S. and Russia on Sept. 9.

“This is not the vision that was put into place more than seven days ago,” said Air Force Col. John J. Thomas, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, referring to reports of continued airstrikes by the Syrian regime.

“We won’t move forward until the diplomats and senior leaders tell us to," Thomas told reporters during a press briefing Tuesday.

The cease-fire deal called for the two former Cold War rivals to set up a joint facility for sharing intelligence and coordinating airstrikes against both Islamic State militants and al Nusra, a notorious al-Qaeda-linked group. The U.S. has not previously targeted al Nusra.

The key requirement was adherence to a seven-day cease-fire that called on the Syrian regime and Russia to halt attacks around the city of Aleppo, which has experienced some of the war's most horrific violence, and allow for sustained delivery of humanitarian aid.

But those attacks have continued, including Monday’s bombing of an aid convoy carrying food supplied by the United Nations to a rural area near Aleppo. The International Committee of the Red Cross said the strikes killed 20 people and were a violation of international law.
Technically, the military cooperation between the U.S. and Russia could have begun Tuesday. But violations of the cease-fire have halted the planning effort. Thomas said U.S. military officials began internal planning for the “joint integration center” that will be the hub for the military cooperation with Russia.

But that planning effort has not included direct discussions with the Russians.

“We haven’t had any mil-to-mil contact [with Russia] at all because we are not authorized to,” Thomas said.
“We are waiting to see what we’re asked to do,” Thomas said. “It’s not a situation where we are anticipating any great progress anytime soon."

Also on Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, met in New York to talk about saving the deal for a cease-fire.

U.S. military officials have criticized the plan for coordinated military operations with Russia. Many military leaders say the Russians cannot be trusted and joint U.S.-Russian military operations would be extremely complex.

The U.S. and Russia have backed different factions of Syria’s multisided civil war. The U.S. has limited its airstrikes to ISIS and ultimately wants to see Syrian President Bashar Assad leave office. The Russians are targeting al Nusra militants and are supporting Assad's regime.


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