American and Russia military leaders held an unprecedented, face-to-face meeting in recent days to discuss the increasing tensions around the Islamic State stronghold of Deir el-Zour, Syria, a coalition spokesman said Thursday.
U.S. Army Col. Ryan Dillon, the spokesman for the U.S.-led counter-Islamic State coalition, told reporters Thursday via video conference from Baghdad that the discussion between generals from both countries lasted more than an hour.
Dillon added that the coalition and Russian officers shared maps and other data on where their forces were battling in the area. The coalition has maintained that it is “deconflicting” with Russian forces to prevent unintended mishaps in the fight against Islamic State in Syria. However, the latest meeting left many reporters wondering how the exchange was not considered cooperation between the two countries’ forces.
Russian forces are helping Syrian government forces that are battling to take Deir el-Zour province from Islamic State, while the coalition is backing Syrian Democratic Forces also trying to remove the terror group from the oil-rich province.
“Our partners have also made significant gains across northern Syria and are not ready to give that up” and allow IS to potentially come back in the area, Dillon said.
He added that Syrian government forces are in Deir el-Zour city proper, while SDF forces are in the surrounding province.
“There is a separation between the locations where they are fighting and where our partner forces are fighting,” he said.
U.S. and Russian forces share at least three channels of communication, according to Dillon. U.S. and Russian air forces share a telephone communication line, U.S. and Russian ground forces share a telephone communication line, and U.S. and Russian commanders share a third line.
Recently, Russia accused the SDF of firing on Syrian government forces in the area.