Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joesph Dunford told reporters at the Pentagon Monday that any cooperation deal reached by the Obama administration with Russian President Vladimir Putin would not be founded on trust.
“We’re not entering into a transaction that’s founded on trust. There will be specific procedures and processes in any transaction we might have with the Russians that would account for protecting our operational security,” Dunford said.
Dunford’s hedged comments reflect the Pentagon’s deep apprehension to working with Russia in Syria. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter doubled down on Dunford’s comments Monday, saying any deal would be “based on a transaction and on mutual interest,” and “not based on trust.”
Dunford and Carter’s rhetoric is remarkably similar to the Obama administration on the Iran deal.
President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry’s deal entails working with Russia inside Syria to coordinate airstrikes against terrorist groups. The deal would mean establishing a joint intelligence center on the Jordanian border, where U.S. and Russian military officials would be housed in the same facility. Dunford’s concerns with operational security are well founded. Russia’s intelligence agencies have aggressively targeted U.S. government institutions and are suspected to be behind the recent Democratic National Committee email hack.
Pentagon officials heavily objected to the deal after Russia went so far as to bomb a secret operating base for U.S. special operators inside Syria last month, ostensibly to increase the pressure on Obama and Kerry. Other opponents of the deal point out that Russia has routinely labeled any rebel force that opposes the ruling Assad regime a terrorist group.
By accepting the Russian definition of terrorist inside Syria, the U.S. may inadvertently target moderate opposition forces or wipe out all viable forces on the battlefield against Assad. Pentagon officials told The Washington Post they believe working with Russia in Syria legitimizes its intervention and rewards it for bad behavior.
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