US Refuses to Establish Syrian No-Fly Zone Despite Airspace Warnings

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It's not a no-fly zone, but Syrian and Russian aircraft venturing near areas where U.S. troops are on the ground risk getting shot down, the Pentagon's press secretary said Monday.

"We always have the right to defend our forces," Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said at a news conference in reference to an incident last Thursday in which Syrian Su-24s bombed near a U.S. Special Forces team on the ground. "We, again, would advise them to steer clear in areas where we are operating."

Cook insisted that the U.S. was not creating no-fly zones over Syria. The Pentagon and the White House have in the past consistently rejected pleas from congressional Republicans and humanitarian groups for no-fly zones to protect refugees along the Turkish border from attack, saying such a move would be logistically and politically difficult.

Cook said the new warnings to Russia and Syria were "consistent with what we've said in the past. We've said specifically we will protect coalition forces and our partnered operations" with such U.S.-backed opposition groups as the Syrian Arab Coalition and the Kurdish militia known as the YPG, or People's Protection Units.

Cook said that partnered operations would come under the U.S. air umbrella when the opposition groups are engaged in action against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. In the incident last Thursday, U.S. warplanes scrambled against Syrian aircraft that had bombed in the northeastern Syrian city of Hasakah, where fighting had broken out between Kurdish forces and militias backed by the Syrian regime.

The bombing was considered a threat to U.S. trainers and advisers in the area. The Syrian aircraft departed the area before the U.S. fighters arrived, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters last Friday.

After much back and forth with reporters on what was -- and wasn't -- a no-fly zone, Cook said "you can label it what you want."

Cook also said that Russian actions in Syria in support of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, including continued bombing in the besieged city of Aleppo, cast doubt on the efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry to reach agreement with the Russians on a coordinated response to ISIS in Syria.

"Contrary to recent claims, we have not finalized plans on coordinated efforts. We are not there yet," Cook said, and recent actions by the Russians and the Syrians "only make it harder. Serious issues must first be resolved before we can implement the steps" considered by Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Cook said.

Kerry and Lavrov are scheduled for another round of talks starting Aug. 26 in Geneva.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at

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