American and Russian generals met face-to-face at an undisclosed location in the Middle East this week days after the Pentagon accused Russia of bombing U.S.-backed fighters in eastern Syria -- with U.S. special operations forces dangerously close by.
A U.S. military spokesman talking to reporters from Baghdad Thursday wouldn't disclose the location of the meeting or reveal which senior military officials participated. U.S. Army Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, said the meeting lasted more than an hour. Dillon wouldn't divulge any more details, but said both sides would likely meet again.
The U.S. military said Russian jets on Saturday wounded several members of a U.S.-backed militia called the Syrian Democratic Forces, made up of Kurdish and Arab fighters near Deir al-Zor, that have been very successful in retaking large portions of northern Syria back from ISIS.
Dillon said “there is not communication on the ground" between Russian-backed forces and U.S.-backed forces, which now find themselves eyeball-to-eyeball across the Euphrates River from one another in the eastern Syrian city of Deir al-Zor, which ISIS has held since 2014.
The U.S. military by law is not allowed to coordinate with Russia or Russian-backed forces after Russia’s invasion of Crimea. Dillon said “de-confliction” efforts continue along a number of hotlines set up between Russian and U.S. military forces.
Dillon said the U.S.-backed force had recaptured more than 70 percent of the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa, where up to 900 ISIS fighters remain.
In neighboring Iraq, the Iraqi government announced a new offensive against ISIS in one of the last remaining cities under Islamic State control—Hawija. Dillon said the upcoming Kurdish referendum would not impact the operation after rumors spread that Baghdad would hold up the offensive until the Kurds promised to postpone their independence referendum currently scheduled for September 25th.