Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Monday that the U.S. is working to resume "in the coming hours" communication with the Russian military to avoid confrontation in Syria, after Moscow warned it will treat U.S. jets that venture west of the Euphrates River as targets after a Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet shot down a Syrian fighter jet.
"We’ll work diplomatically and militarily in the coming hours to re-establish deconfliction," Dunford said, indicating that a hotline between Russia and the U.S. to deconflict their military operations is still functioning.
"We have an effective link between our operations center in Qatar and the Russian Federation on the ground in Syria. That link is still ongoing here this morning," the nation’s top military officer said at an event sponsored by the National Press Club. "When I left the building this morning, [we had] still been communicating over the last few hours."
The shootdown on Sunday, involving a Russian-made Su-22 fighter-bomber that had attacked U.S.-backed Syrian rebels, was first time the U.S. has shot down a Syrian aircraft.
The U.S. backs Syrian rebels fighting the Islamic State terrorist group, while Russia is intervening militarily on behalf of embattled Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, including providing air support for government troops.
Dunford said the U.S. has "worked through a number of issues" with Russia and that the a deconfliction line set up by both sides "has worked very well over the past eight months."
Whether the "deconfliction chain" is restored in the coming hours, Dunford said, will be a test of Russia’s seriousness about fighting ISIS.
"The Russian Federation has indicated that their purpose in Syria, like ours, is to defeat ISIS," Dunford said. "And we’ll see if that’s true here in the coming hours because all of our operations in and around Raqqa and southern Syria are designed specifically to get after ISIS … and we’ll work to restore that deconfliction chain in the next few hours."
"I’m confident that we are still communicating between our operations center and the Russian Federation operations center," he added. "And I’m also confident that our forces have the capability to take care of themselves."