US, Russia sign memorandum on safe flight operations over Syria
Updated: 2015-10-21 11:30
A frame grab taken from footage released by Russia's Defence Ministry on October 18, 2015, shows airstrikes carried out by the country's air force in the Syrian province of Hama. [Photo/Agencies]
WASHINGTON - The Pentagon said on Tuesday the United States and Russia signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on safe flight operations over Syria as they carry out separate airstrikes against militant groups in the country.
The MOU did not establish any military cooperation between the two in Syria; neither did it include intelligence sharing or any sharing of target information in Syria, said Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook here at a briefing.
"We do not agree with the Russian on their strategy in Syria. At a minimum, we can agree with them on the safe operations of flights over Syria between our air crews and theirs," Cook said.
According to Cook, specific safety protocols were established for air crews of both sides to follow, including maintaining professional airmanship, the use of specific communication frequencies and the establishment of a communication line on the ground.
However, no communication between Russia and the US-led coalition battling the Islamic State (IS) would take place before any air operation.
"There is a series of protocols in place that effectively are intended to avoid any sort of risk of a mid-air incident," said Cook, adding that any communication between the two sides would happen only after an "incident or engagement" in the air.
"If the Russians abide by these rules, there would be no reason for them (pilots) to have to engage audibly in communication," Cook said.
When asked about what would define a "safe distance" in the air, Cook refused to specify.
"I think it is safe to say that anything that could be deemed as threatening or hostile would represent a violation of this agreement," he said, adding that US air crews "always have the right to defend themselves" if feeling threatened.
The two countries reached agreement on air safety in Syria 10 days after US and Russian aircrafts came within visual range of each other during a mission.
To avoid an inadvertent clash in Syrian airspace during their airstrikes against the IS extremist group, the United States and Russia started their latest round of military contacts early this month after a long hiatus due to rivalry on the Ukraine crisis.
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