Mon, Jun 20, 2016 - Page 6 News List

US, Russian officials discuss Syria airstrikes

NY Times News Service, WASHINGTON

Senior US and Russian defense officials on Saturday held what the Pentagon described as an “extraordinary” videoconference to discuss Russian airstrikes that days earlier hit a garrison manned by Syrian rebels backed by the US government.

The Russian airstrikes on Thursday hit Syrian opposition fighters at the al-Tanf crossing, which lies on Syria’s border with Iraq.

The rebels there are battling the Islamic State and are also supposed to be covered by a partial ceasefire that the US and Russia brokered in February, the Pentagon said.

During the videoconference, Pentagon officials “expressed strong concerns about the attack” on forces that are fighting the Islamic State, US Department of Defense spokesman Peter Cook said in a statement.

US officials told the Russians that their airstrikes had continued even after they were officially informed that allied air support was underway for the rebels and that this had “created safety concerns for US and coalition forces,” the statement said.

Although fighting has tapered off in many areas since the ceasefire went into effect in February, there have been fierce clashes in recent weeks in areas of northern Syria, where the Islamic State and al-Nusra Front are strongest.

US officials have accused Russia of failing to stop the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from violating the ceasefire and attacking rebel groups backed by the US.

There was no immediate word on how Russian officials responded to the concerns expressed by US officials on Saturday.

However, the videoconference took place as Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu met with al-Assad in Damascus and visited the Russian air base in Syria, The Associated Press reported.

Since the Russian air campaign in Syria began in September last year, it has helped al-Assad’s forces reclaim territory, reversing the fortunes of a regime that at this time last year appeared to be in an increasingly perilous position.

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