US unhindered by Russian no-fly zones in Syria

US unhindered by Russian no-fly zones in Syria

Russian-declared no-fly zones in Syria are not restricting where the U.S.-led coalition flies its aircraft in targeting Islamic State in Iraq and Syria fighters, the U.S. general in charge of the air war against ISIS said Wednesday 

“We don't recognize any specific zone in itself that we preclude ourselves from operating in," said Air Force Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command. “Wherever the enemy's at, wherever they present themselves, we are able to get after them."

Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon from Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, Harrigian said the U.S. doesn't coordinate or seek permission from Russia in carrying out air attacks, including a strike last week on militia aligned with Syrian president Bashar Assad in southern Syria.

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The coalition said the pro-government forces advanced in a “deconfliction zone” and posed a threat to coalition-backed forces.

“This strike should make it clear to all that coalition air power will be used when our ground forces are threatened,” Harrigian said.

The coalition does, however, communicate with the Russian military to inform them on where its aircraft are bombing as a way to avoid in air collisions. 

Harrigian added that the deconfliction talks between Russia and the United States have increased as the coalition prepares for an assault on Raqqa, the de facto capital of ISIS.

"We have had to increase the amount of deconfliction work we are doing with the Russians given the tighter airspace that we're now working ourselves through," Harrigian said.

Russia is a staunch ally of Assad and conducts airstrikes against targets in the country to help Syrian government forces fight militant groups.

The U.S. and Russia signed a memorandum of understanding in 2015 when Russia began its air operations in the country, aimed at avoiding mid-air collision.

But that was suspended by Russia in April after the U.S. launched a retaliatory missile strike on a Syrian military airfield in response to a chemical weapons attack in northern Syria allegedly carried out by Assad’s military.

The deconfliction deal has since been re-established, but earlier this month Russia, Turkey and Iran signed a memorandum to establish four safe zones, or de-escalation zones in the country, areas the U.S. and its coalition partners is expected to stay out of.

Harrigian said that the de-escalation zones are not being discussed in U.S. talks with Russia.

“We do not have specific zones that we are deconflicting with them,” Harrigian said. “When we've talked to the Russians, we do not talk about those deescalation zones. We just talk deconfliction in our operations.”