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Pentagon spokesperson Capt. Jeff Davis denied Russian media reports that the U.S. and Russia conducted a joint training exercise over Syria today, saying that they did do a communications test but there was no exercise.
Davis said that at roughly noon Qatar time one U.S. fighter aircraft conducted a three-minute planned communications test with one Russian fighter aircraft in the skies of south central Syria —as part of the provisions of a flight safety memorandum of understanding agreed to by both nations.
“The test was conducted. This test was a prudent measure solely to ensure that, in the event coalition aircraft encounter a Russian aircraft during operations in Syria, one of the established and agreed upon modes of communication in the agreement functioned,” Davis said in a statement.
“This test assured that the first time this mode of communication was used would not be during an unplanned encounter,” Davis said adding that the test of the hotline meant to be used between the U.S. and Russian militaries to de-conflict airspace was successful.
A senior defense official says that all military to military cooperation with Russia remains on hold because of the Russian activities in Crimea.
And a U.S. military official reports that Russia has opened a new base in Tiyas, Syria near Palmyra – bringing the number of Russian bases in Syria to four.
The first base in Latakia remains the main hub for Russian operations in Syria. The second, a forward staging base, opened in Hama. The third base opened just south of Homs in Shairat.
The Russians have moved five attack helicopters to the new base in Tiyas.
This new location is very significant, the U.S. military official explains, because, given the location, the Russians are likely to actually strike ISIS targets from there.