Pentagon Opposes Obama Plan to Increase Military Cooperation With Russia in Syria

Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama
Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama / AP
July 13, 2016

Pentagon officials are pushing back against the Obama administration’s plan to strengthen military cooperation between the United States and Russia in the fight against terrorist groups in Syria.

The U.S. sent a proposal to Russian President Vladimir Putin about two weeks ago that would mandate the military to share information with Russia about specific targets in Syria, in exchange for Moscow halting its bombing campaign against U.S.-supported rebels.

Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to meet with Putin on Thursday to discuss the plan.

A U.S. defense official told the Daily Beast on Wednesday that the Pentagon is already attempting to constrain coordination efforts and the amount of intelligence shared between Washington and Moscow.

Two defense officials said the Russians "could not be trusted to honor" any pact between the two nations. They predicted Moscow would use the agreement to strengthen Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s regime while weakening Syria’s rebel fighters, many of whom are backed by U.S. forces.

The Russians have sought U.S. military collaboration against Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s arm in Syria, for a long time. The group is primarily attacking the Assad regime, which is allied with Putin’s government.

Some defense officials skeptical of the proposal backed by President Obama and Kerry note that Russian forces have leveraged attacks against U.S.-backed rebel forces as recently as last month.

The Russian military has even attempted to recruit Syrian rebels allied with the U.S. to join its side in the Syrian conflict.

Two U.S. defense officials anticipated that Russia would use enhanced U.S. coordination to divert the focus in Syria from ousting Assad toward weakening his opponents, including Jabhat al-Nusra, the Daily Beast reported.

The officials predicted Russian forces would also walk back promises to cease attacks against U.S.-backed rebels, thus "eliminating the two greatest threats to the Assad regime."

Defense Secretary Ash Carter was initially opposed to the proposal, but he ultimately supported it amid pressure from the White House last month.

"If the Russians would do the right thing in Syria, and that’s an important condition, as in all cases with Russia, we’re willing to work with them," Carter told reporters in June.