Report: US proposes joint facility with Russia to target al Qaeda in Syria

Report: US proposes joint facility with Russia to target al Qaeda in Syria
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U.S. and Russian forces could work out of a joint facility in Jordan to target al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria under an Obama administration plan to change the tide there, according to a proposal obtained and published by The Washington Post.

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“The purpose of the JIG [Joint Implementation Group] is to enable expanded coordination between the United States and the Russian Federation beyond the established safety of flight procedures,” the proposal reads. “The participants, through the JIG, are to work together to defeat Jabhat al Nusra and [the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria] within the context of strengthening the Cessation of Hostilities (CoH) and supporting the political transition process.”

The document confirms and expands on details first reported by the Post last month about the Obama administration considering cooperating with Russia in Syria to target al Nusra.

Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryDem Sen. Markey faces potential primary challenge in Massachusetts Judd Gregg: The dangers of the Bolton Doctrine Rubio asks Barr to investigate Kerry over Iran meetings MORE is traveling to Moscow Thursday, where he is widely expected to discuss the proposal.

Speaking to reporters in Paris on Thursday morning, Kerry declined to comment on the leaked proposal.

“I don’t right now,” Kerry said when asked if he has a comment. “I’ll have comments going to Moscow. I’m meeting with President [Vladimir] Putin tonight. We’ll have plenty of time to talk about it, and I’ll give you all a sense of where we are.”

Russia has claimed ignorance of Kerry’s agenda in Moscow.

“We will find out later today what Mr. Kerry will bring and what Washington has prepared for Russia,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, said Thursday, according to state-owned news agency TASS.

Right now, U.S. and Russian forces only communicate in Syria to prevent mid-air incidents between pilots.

Russia, which is in Syria in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad, has long sought greater cooperation with the United States to target al Nusra. But U.S. officials have previously rebuffed those offers, saying Russia is not to be trusted and has not shown it’s serious about fighting terrorism.

But with previous efforts to end the devastating civil war failing, officials are now reportedly hoping to use the deal to entice Russia to uphold a ceasefire and pressure Assad to go to the negotiating table.

“The steps outlined above are intended as steps toward a more comprehensive understanding between the U.S. and Russia, with a target date of July 31, 2016, on three inter-related issues designed to produce a durable end of the conflict and the defeat of Daesh and Nusrah,” the proposal reads.

The three issues listed are defeating ISIS and al Nusra; turning the so-called cessation of hostilities into a durable, nationwide ceasefire; and creating a framework for political transition in Syria.

Terrorist groups such as ISIS and al Nusra were not part of the ceasefire. The United States has accused Russia of using that as a cover to violate the ceasefire and target civilians and rebels fighting Assad. Russia has maintained it is targeting al Nusra, but that the group is mixed in with those populations.

Under the proposal, the Joint Implementation Group would be headquartered in Amman, Jordan. Each country would maintain separate offices, as well as staff a joint coordination center “to exchange intelligence and operational information.”

Operations against al Nusra would be coordinated, with both countries agreeing to targets beforehand. Only one country’s military would carry out an operation, but “at some point, national authorities may authorize the participants to coordinate on integrated operations,” the proposal reads.

Also, one country could target al Nusra without telling the other in the case of “imminent threats,” the proposal says.

Regime forces would also not be allowed to fly in “designated areas” where al Nusra is located. There would be exemptions, though, for medical evacuations, personnel recovery and humanitarian assistance.

Meanwhile, operations against ISIS would be “independent, but synchronized,” the proposal says.