ANTALYA, Turkey, March 7, 2017 — The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is meeting with his Russian and Turkish counterparts here today to discuss the situation in northern Syria.

Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, Gen. Valery Gerasimov of the Russian army and Gen. Hulusi Akar of the Turkish army are looking to enhance senior-level communications and operational deconfliction of military operations in Syria, Joint Staff officials said.

It is a measure of the success that forces are having in countering the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria that the conversation is necessary, officials said, adding that operations in Manjib and Bab in northern Syria have created a crowded battlespace.

Forces are crowding ISIS, especially around Bab. Army Lt. Gen. Steven Townsend, the commander of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, told Pentagon reporters March 1 that all the forces acting in Syria “have converged literally within hand-grenade range of one another.”

Converging Forces

At the end of February, Turkish and Turkish proxy forces converged with Syrian regime and Syrian proxy fighters, with ISIS in the mix, officials said, and Peoples’ Protection Units, Syrian Democratic Force fighters and Syrian Arab Coalition fighters also are close together.

“We’ve seen Syrian regime forces advance through ISIS-held villages to essentially rifle range or hand-grenade range with Syrian Arab Coalition fighters holding the area around Manbij,” Townsend said March 1.

This is a dangerous situation, Joint Staff officials said, and chances for mistakes multiply. Some Russian and Syrian regime aircraft mistakenly bombed a village that Syrian Arab Coalition forces had liberated from ISIS. American forces were near the scene, but were not affected by the mistake.

The United States and Russia have a way to deconflict aerial operations through a memorandum of understanding and regular video teleconference meetings. The purpose of the chairman’s meeting here is to ensure that deconfliction process extends to the ground as well, officials said.

This is the second time in a month that Dunford has met with his Russian counterpart. He and Gerasimov met in Baku, Azerbaijan, Feb. 16.

By

Robert Willi

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