Pentagon urges Russia not to hang up military hotline

The Pentagon urged Russia to keep military channels open Friday after Moscow said it was going to hang up a vital hotline established to avoid mishaps between the two powers in Syria.

The so-called deconfliction line has been a lifesaving -- albeit imperfect -- tool since it was set up soon after Russia entered Syria's civil war in late 2015 to prop up President Bashar al-Assad.

Even though the US military used the line to warn Russia of the impending missile strike on an Assad air base near Homs early Friday, a furious Moscow reacted to the attack by its ally by saying it would no longer cooperate with the Americans.

"The Russian side is halting the effect of the memorandum for prevention of incidents and ensuring safety of air flights during operations in Syria which was agreed with the US," the Russian foreign ministry said.

Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesman, said he hoped Russia would reconsider.

"The Department of Defense maintains the desire for dialogue through the flight safety channel," he said.

"It is to the benefit of all parties operating in the air over Syria to avoid accidents and miscalculation, and we hope the Russian Ministry of Defense comes to this conclusion as well."

A senior US military official said the deconfliction line remained open as of noon Friday and had been used by US and Russian officials since the US strike on a Syrian regime airfield.

"There is no variation of the deconfliction line or deconfliction coordination with the Russians," the official said.

The hotline was established between US officers monitoring the war from an operations center at a base in Qatar and their Russian counterparts operating in Syria.

The link is a regular phone line staffed on the US side by a Russian-speaking colonel and has been used daily since its inception.

Moscow's move to abandon the hotline could dramatically raise the risk to pilots and ground forces on all sides.

It was used in February to stop a Russian strike on US-backed fighters in several small villages in northern Syria after the Russian pilots apparently mistakenly thought Islamic State group forces were in the area.

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The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the aircraft "took off from inside the Shayrat base, which is partially back in service, and struck targets near Palmyra".

Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman could not specify whether they were Syrian or Russian planes, but said they were Sukhoi jets, which both Damascus and its ally Moscow use.

The Britain-based group said the aircraft targeted territory controlled by the Islamic State jihadist group, which holds parts of the central Syrian province of Homs.

Early on Friday morning, the US military fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at the Shayrat air field in response to a suspected chemical attack this week that has been widely blamed on the Damascus regime.

A Syrian military source told AFP that Syria's armed forces were warned about possible US military action hours before the strike took place.

"We took precautions in more than one military point, including in the Shayrat airbase. We moved a number of airplanes towards other areas," the source said.

US officials said Russia's military in Syria had been informed of the strike beforehand in order to avoid casualties that could prompt a broader crisis.

The US said the missiles targeted radars, aircraft, and air defence systems and destroyed around 20 Syrian planes, but said the runway was intact.

Russia's military said the strike had an "extremely low" military impact, with fewer than half of the 59 missiles reaching the airbase.

According to the Observatory, the US strike on the base killed eight members of Syria's armed forces, including a doctor.

Syria's army had earlier said six people were killed in the strike, without specifying if they were military personnel or civilians.

The official state news agency SANA also the strikes also killed nine civilians in villages near the base.

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Pentagon urges Russia not to hang up military hotline Pentagon urges Russia not to hang up military hotline Reviewed by Defense Alert on 01:31:00 Rating: 5

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