Pentagon praises 'very helpful' Russia in southern Syria

A still image taken from a footage broadcasted on Lebanese Hezbollah's Al Manar TV channel, shows what is said to be a US military drone flying over southeast Syria.
A still image taken from a footage broadcasted on Lebanese Hezbollah's Al Manar TV channel, shows what is said to be a US military drone flying over southeast Syria.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The Pentagon credited Russia on Friday (June 9) for helping calm tensions in southern Syria after a US jet shot down a pro-regime combat drone that had fired at coalition forces.

In the first incident of its type, the pro-regime drone on Thursday (June 8) fired what turned out to be a dud bomb at US-led coalition forces close to the coalition's At-Tanaf garrison near the Jordanian border.

The Pentagon has not said who was operating the drone or where it came from, but the At-Tanaf area has seen a surge in activity of Iran-backed troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and Iran makes an armed drone similar in description to the one shot down.

Russia is fighting for Assad and has considerable sway over the various forces on the battlefield.

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Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis said any escalation in hostilities between the coalition and the pro-regime forces had been avoided thanks mainly to Russia's influence.

"Russia has been very helpful and I think that the calm we see today is largely due to their efforts," Davis said.

"They are trying to get the other parties, the pro-regime, the Iranian-backed militias to do the right thing and to prevent them from taking actions that are destabilizing." It was an unusual statement for the Pentagon, which in the past has roundly criticized Russian operations in Syria.

The Russian and US militaries have set up a special hotline to communicate about troop and plane movements over a crowded battle space, and the two sides regularly talk to avoid mishaps and ensure they are not operating in each others' space.

Davis said there had been multiple military contacts over the At-Tanaf situation, both on the hotline and at "senior military levels."

The Russians "have helped to pass messages and calm the situation there, and we hope that continues," he said.

Tensions around the At-Tanaf garrison, where US and British commandos train local forces fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group, have surged as pro-regime troops look to expand their influence.

Apart from the drone shootdown, the US has in recent weeks conducted three strikes against pro-regime forces it deemed to be threatening At-Tanaf.

But Davis said the coalition's single goal was defeating ISIS and it sought to avoid getting drawn into the broader Syria conflict.

"We are only going to take action if we see things that they are doing that threaten us," he said.

"Our only role there is to fight ISIS and that's what we are doing."