US, Russia agree to pilot safety protocols in Syria

US, Russia agree to pilot safety protocols in Syria
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Officials from the United States and Russia signed an agreement Tuesday meant to prevent any future incidents between pilots in the skies above Syria.

“Our aircrews continue to fly in a professional fashion,” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said. “This obligates the Russians to do the same.”

The agreement, which includes both manned and unmanned flights, extends to all coalition aircraft, though it only covers safety protocols, Cook said, as the U.S. continues to disagree with Russia’s strategy in Syria.

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The provisions include maintaining professional airmanship, using specific frequencies to communicate between pilots and creating a military-to-military communication line on the ground should the talks in the air not be enough.

At the request of the Russians, the full text of the memorandum of understanding will not be released, Cook said.

Since Moscow began carrying out airstrikes in Syria, U.S. aircraft have had a few close calls with Russian aircraft, getting as close as two miles from each other.

Cook repeatedly declined to specify whether the agreement includes a specific distance that is considered safe but said it should be “abundantly clear” to pilots from both countries what would be considered appropriate.

He reiterated that U.S. pilots have a right to defend themselves should they feel threatened but that the hope of the agreement is that any risk of an incident is minimized or even eliminated.

“The fact that we’ve have had to resort to a memorandum of understanding to try to work out what should be standard protocol gives an indication about our concern of Russia’s activities,” Cook said when asked whether Russia can be trusted to follow the agreement.

“We’re doing everything we can beyond the understanding to make sure our crews are as safe as possible,” he added. “Do not believe the memorandum of understanding is the only thing we’re doing to make sure our crews are safe over Syria.”