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US, Russia Urged to Communicate Better on Syrian Airspace

FILE - In this photo made from footage taken from the Russian Defense Ministry website, a bomb is released from a Russian Su-24M jet fighter in Syria, Oct. 5, 2015.

The United States and Russia need to enhance communication to avoid accidents in the skies over Syria because airspace is shrinking as Islamic State loses more territory, a top U.S. Air Force general said Friday.

General Herbert Carlisle called for greater communication, stopping short of coordination, with Russia over Syria through a channel that Moscow and Washington already have for avoiding each other. In 2015, they agreed to create a ground communication link and outline steps their pilots could take to avoid an inadvertent clash over Syria.

"It is going to become more and more complex as time goes on, and as we continue to squeeze ISIS and take continually more territory away from them, it becomes even more complex," Carlisle told reporters, using an acronym for Islamic State. He leads the Air Force's Air Combat Command.

The militant group is under pressure from a U.S.-led coalition and Russian airstrikes, as well as on other fronts. Turkey-backed rebels drove IS from al-Bab, Syria, on Thursday, and Iraq has ordered its air force to strike IS positions inside Syria in retaliation for recent bomb attacks in Baghdad.

Earlier this month, the top U.S. and Russian military leaders agreed to enhance communication to avoid "unintended consequences" in Syria.

Despite the latest safety effort, U.S. President Donald Trump's defense secretary has ruled out fuller military collaboration with Russia, in a blow to Moscow's hopes to mend ties with Washington after Trump's election.