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U.S. military denies coordinating Syria air strikes with Russia

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon on Monday denied that it had coordinated air strikes with Russia in Syria, after Russia’s defense ministry said the United States had provided coordinates for Islamic State militants.

A general view shows rising smoke after strikes on Aleppo city, Syria December 3, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

The Russian defense ministry said the Russian military had received coordinates of Islamic State targets near al-Bab, Syria from the “American side” of the U.S.-led coalition fighting the militant group on Jan. 22.

“As a result of this joint operation, a number of ammunition depots… as well as an area where militants had gathered with equipment, were destroyed,” the Russian defense ministry was quoted by TASS news agency as saying.

The Pentagon denied that.

“The Department of Defense is not coordinating air strikes with the Russian military in Syria,” Eric Pahon, a Pentagon spokesman, said.

Pahon said the Defense Department had a channel of communication with the Russian military that was solely focused on avoiding collisions in the airspace over Syria.

Russia and the United States back opposing sides in the Syrian conflict, with Moscow supporting President Bashar al-Assad and Washington providing backing to some Sunni Muslim rebels.

Separately, the United States is also leading an international coalition carrying out air strikes against Islamic State.

When asked whether the United States would be open to joint military action with Russia in Syria, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said during a news conference on Monday: “If there is a way that we can combat ISIS with any country, whether it is Russia or anyone else and we have a shared national interest in that, sure we’ll take it.”

President Donald Trump frequently said during his campaign that he wants to work with Russia to fight Islamic State, which holds territory in Iraq and Syria, and other militant groups.

Reporting by Idrees Ali in Washington and Jack Stubbs in Moscow; Editing by Alistair Bell