Dunford: Deconfliction Hotline Still Active After Russia Announces Pullout

The communications link between the US Combined Air Operations Center and Russian officials remained open Monday morning, even though Russia threatened to pull out of the agreement after a US Navy jet shot down a Syrian Air Force plane on Sunday.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, speaking Monday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., said the link was “still ongoing” and effective as of Monday morning.

Russia on Monday said it was ending the direct communications with the US, and would consider all aircraft flying west of the Euphrates River as a “target,” but officials did not explicitly say whether Russia would shoot the aircraft down, Reuters reported.

Dunford said the US has “worked very hard” on deconfliction with Russia, and the phone line established in a memorandum of understanding last year has been effective. He said the US was going to speak with Russian officials on the future of the line later Monday. “The coming hours” will be important in maintaining the connection, he said.

A US Navy F/A-18E shot down a Syrian Air Force Su-22 Sunday after it dropped a bomb near US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. The US had warned Syria through the channel with Russia to avoid any violent provocation in an established de-escalation zone before the shoot down. The US made “every effort” to warn Syria to stop its actions in the area before the commander made “a judgment” based on the threat to allied forces.

The US is in Syria with the sole purpose of defeating ISIS, but would act in self defense if needed, reiterated Dunford. The shoot down was justified self-defense of US allies, and is covered under the 2001 Authorization on the Use of Military Force because US forces are in the region fighting terrorism, he said.

The deconfliction line is important to US and allied operations in Syria, but Dunford said Monday he is confident in the ability of US pilots to defend themselves if needed.