U.S. and Russian ground commanders met this week to make sure "we don't fire upon one another" in the fight against ISIS in the eastern border area of Syria, a U.S. military spokesman said Thursday.
The face-to-face meeting at an undisclosed location in the Mideast is believed to be a first for U.S. and Russian ground forces, the spokesman said, and followed attacks by Russian warplanes last weekend on positions of the U.S.-partnered Syrian Democratic Forces in the region.
The bottom line is, "We need to know where they are, and they need to know where we are" in the fighting in the oil-rich eastern province of Deir al-Zour, said Army Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve.
In a video briefing from Baghdad to the Pentagon, Dillon said the commanders exchanged maps and graphics on the locations of their partnered forces in the eastern region, where the SDF and forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia, are fighting ISIS on opposite sides of the Euphrates River.
The commanders' meeting was intended to make sure "we don't fire upon one another" in the pursuit of ISIS, Dillon said, but the effort at "deconfliction" did not signal that the U.S. will cooperate with the Russians or the Syrian regime.
Both the Russian and the U.S. commanders stressed the "prevention of accidental targeting or other possible frictions that will distract from the defeat of ISIS," he said.
Last weekend, SDF fighters charged that they had come under attack by Russian warplanes and Syrian regime forces. Moscow denied attacking the SDF and counter-charged that the SDF had fired across the Euphrates on Syrian regime forces and their Russian advisers.
In a statement, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, said, "A representative of the U.S. military command in Al Udeid [the U.S. operations center in Qatar] was told in no uncertain terms that any attempts to open fire from areas where SDF fighters are located would be quickly shut down."
"Fire points in those areas will be immediately suppressed with all military means," Konashenkov said.
The allegations by the Russians provided "all the more reason why the deconfliction measures must be discussed and really figured out to the gnats' details," Dillon said. "The convergence of forces next to one another just increases the need for these deconfliction measures."
He said the U.S. maintains separate lines of communication for deconfliction with the Russians -- one for air forces and one for ground forces.