When a Russian military officer tried to notify the U.S. this weekend that its coalition was hitting Syrian forces, the American point of contact was not available immediately, a U.S. military spokesman said Tuesday.
"They called back and they got more specific, that said, 'Hey, you're hitting regime forces,' and at that point it was about minutes — less than five minutes — that the [U.S.] call to knock it off had been put in place, and the attack ceased," Thomas said.
The first call from the Russians was to their point of contact in the U.S. combined air operations center (CAOC) coordinating coalition airstrikes in Syria, but that person was not available at the time, Thomas said.
"They asked to speak to their contact, and that individual wasn't next to the phone," he said. "They weren't expecting a call."
"So there's a designated person in the CAOC to take those calls each day and they had to go and fetch the person on our side to get it," he said.
After the Russians called back, "the message became more specific when they got to speak to that person ... they were not just literally sitting by the phone at that moment," Thomas said.
The revelation sheds some light on the struggle for clear communication between the U.S.-led coalition and Russian forces, who are both conducting air wars in Syria.
The U.S. and Russia suspended their military relationship but have opened a channel to make sure their air forces don't collide over Syria.
However, that communication was tested after U.S. and coalition aircraft struck what Russia and Syria claim was a Syrian military site, killing 62 and wounding about a 100 more.
The U.S. said it was appointing a one-star general to investigate the incident.