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Pentagon Seeking Higher-Level Discussions with Russia on Air Safety in Syria

Feb. 26, 2017 (EIRNS)—U.S. military officials have said they want to elevate the level of discussion with the Russian military in Syria on air collision avoidance, to a higher level, somewhere in the range of one to three-star generals, with Russian counterparts of the same rank, reported the Washington Post on Feb. 23. Right now, the discussion that takes place is at the colonel level, using what amounts to a commercial phone line between the two headquarters. The level of discussion needs to be elevated, they say, to improve deconfliction and improve safety for U.S. and coalition pilots. Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, the top U.S. Air Force commander in the Middle East, said the current arrangement does not leave many options for U.S. officers.

"Our perspective has been that there needs to be another layer that allows us to have a more senior-level discussion, and we’ve got to work through where that layer is,"

Harrigian told reporters in Baghdad this week. One complicating factor is legislation passed by Congress in 2014 banning military-to-military contacts with Russia unless Russian forces withdraw from Ukraine. Mattis can waive it, but has not yet done so. Concern about mid-air collisions is said to be very high, with U.S., Russian, Syrian and Turkish planes all operating in the same airspace, especially around al Bab.

Harrigian’s call was echoed by Gen. Herbert "Hawk" Carlisle, the commander of Air Combat Command, on Feb. 24, reported Reuters. He noted that as the territory on the ground that ISIS controls shrinks, so does the available airspace for combat operations.

"It is going to become more and more complex as time goes on, and as we continue to squeeze ISIS and take continually more territory away from them, it becomes even more complex,"

he said.