Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joe Dunford on Monday said the United States will try “in the next few hours” to re-establish deconfliction arrangements between Russia and the United States following the U.S. downing of a Syrian military jet over the weekend.
“An incident occurred, we have to work through the incident, we have a channel to be able to do that and I think it’s going to require some diplomatic and military engagement in the next few hours to restore the deconfliction that we’ve had in place,” Dunford said at a forum at the National Press Club in Washington.
The deconfliction arrangement — first established with Russia in 2015 to avoid mid-air collisions in Syria as both sides fight militant groups — was broken after a U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet on Sunday shot down a Syrian warplane in the southern part of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria's (ISIS) stronghold in Syria.
The Pentagon said the strike — which happened after the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) reportedly came under attack from forces in favor of Syrian President Bashar Assad — complied with the “rules of engagement” and was in self-defense.
Dunford stressed that “the worst thing any of us can do right now is address this thing with hyperbole.”
But the incident drew condemnation from Russia, a key ally of Assad.
Dunford said the U.S. was still communicating with the Russians as of this morning despite the conflict.
“We have an effective link between our operation center in Qatar and the Russian Federation on the ground in Syria,” Dunford said. “That link is still ongoing here this morning. When I left the [Pentagon] this morning we have still been communicating over the last few hours.”
The deconfliction line, often used to avoid unnecessary conflict and miscommunication in military movements, has been shaky at best in the past few months.
The understanding between the two countries was suspended by Russia in April after the United States launched a retaliatory missile strike on a Syrian military airfield. The strike was in response to a chemical weapons attack in northern Syria, allegedly carried out by Assad’s military.
The deconfliction line was re-established in May, but is now back on the rocks after the latest event.
Russia also warned on Monday that it will treat U.S.-led coalition planes in Syria that fly west of the Euphrates River as targets.
The Russian Defense Ministry, meanwhile, has demanded a full U.S. account as to why it decided to shoot down the Syrian jet.
Dunford would not address the Moscow statement, only saying that he was “confident that our forces have the capability to take care of themselves.”
He added that he has not yet spoken to his Russian counterpart, but the United States will “work diplomatically and militarily in the coming hours to re-establish deconfliction.”
“The Russian federation has indicated that they’re purpose in Syria, like ours, is to defeat ISIS and we’ll see if that’s true here in the coming hours,” he added.