Russia knows where U.S. special forces are operating in Syria because the United States informed the Russians of their general location.
The Washington Post reported that Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles Brown, commander of the Air Force Central Command, told journalists Thursday that the U.S. outlined the "not specific areas, but firmly broad areas" where special forces are operating in Syria to the Russians. The top general said that Russia was informed of the U.S. special forces in Syria about the time when the Obama administration announced that they were operating there, which occurred in mid-December.
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Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said vaguely Thursday that high-ranking Pentagon officials had discussed the location of special operations forces in Syria with the Russians, but did not offer details on the timing of the discussions nor the size of the "firmly broad areas" Brown mentioned.
The U.S. and Russia signed a memorandum in October to avoid clashes in Syrian airspace, but the deal was not meant to coordinate policy between the two countries. The memo specified safety protocols to be followed by air crews.
"The discussions through which this [memorandum of understanding] was developed do not constitute U.S. cooperation or support for Russia’s policy or actions in Syria, in fact far from it," Cook said at the time. "We continue to believe that Russia’s strategy in Syria is counterproductive and their support for the Assad regime will only make Syria’s civil war worse."
Cook further stated that the memorandum "does not establish zones of cooperation, intelligence sharing, or any sharing of target information in Syria."
The full text of the memorandum was not publicly released at the request of Moscow. Cook said Thursday that the disclosure of the special forces’ location was outside the scope of the deal, explaining that it was done to ensure the U.S. forces’ safety.
"We provided a geographical area that we asked them to stay out of because of the risk to U.S. forces," Cook said, according to the Military Times. "Up to this point, [the Russians] have honored this request."
The White House announced at the end of October that it would deploy a small group of less than 50 special operations forces to Syria to work with opposition forces targeting ISIS there. The announcement came weeks after Russia began launching air strikes in Syria in order to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and fight ISIS. Russia and Iran have coordinated to prop up Assad in Syria.
Some Russian airstrikes have appeared to target U.S.-backed rebels in Syria, killing civilians in areas that are not under ISIS control.