“The escalation of hostilities among the many factions that are operating in this region doesn’t help anybody,” Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Monday. President Trump has allowed military commanders more say in conducting operations against the Islamic State, urging them to surround the militants in their strongholds and “annihilate” them.
Russia’s warnings could turn out to be posturing. The Russian military has threatened to halt its use of the hotline in the past — notably after Mr. Trump ordered April’s missile launch — only to continue and even expand its contacts with the United States military. But in the complicated and quickly unfolding situation in Syria, even bluster can risk an unintended showdown.
“Anytime we have multiple armed forces working in the same battle space without de-confliction, there is a dangerous risk of things spinning out of control,” said Douglas E. Lute, a retired three-star Army general who was the United States representative to NATO until January. “Tactical incidents on the ground or in the air over Syria can be misunderstood and lead to miscalculation.”
American military officials rushed to de-escalate the situation, saying they hoped Russia could be persuaded to keep using the hotline.
“This is a delicate couple of hours,” Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Monday afternoon. He added that the United States would work both diplomatically and militarily “to re-establish de-confliction.”
But the latest statement from Russia’s Defense Ministry was particularly stark. “All flying objects, including planes and drones of the international coalition, detected west of the Euphrates, will be followed by Russian air defense systems as targets,” said the Defense Ministry statement, which stopped short of declaring that the targets would be shot down.
The Pentagon also vowed to continue…