Following shelling on Sunday, smoke billows from ISIS's last holdout of Baghouz in the eastern Syrian Deir Ezzor province. Photo: AFP

American and Russian military leaders are set to meet Monday in Vienna to discuss operations in Syria, where the Pentagon has decided to leave a residual force to support its Kurdish allies.

General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will represent the US  in the meeting with General Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the Russian General Staff, said Colonel Patrick Ryder, a spokesman for the Joint Chiefs.

“The two military leaders will discuss the deconfliction of coalition and Russian operations in Syria, plus exchange views on the state of US-Russia military relations and the current international security situation in Europe and other key topics,” Ryder said.

Since Russia entered the Syrian conflict in 2015, Moscow and Washington have worked out their respective areas of operation against ISIS, giving each other advance warning of planned air missions to avoid contact.

Issues between the US and Russian militaries also include tensions over nuclear forces in Europe, with Washington renouncing the 1986 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, citing Russian noncompliance.

The treaty eliminated short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and missile launchers from Europe.

Despite the conflict in Syria and the rising bilateral tensions, military leaders have kept a communications channel open.

In August 2018, Russia sent a confidential letter, which was leaked, containing proposals for cooperation to assure Syria’s reconstruction and the return of refugees.

US President Donald Trump decided in December to withdraw US troops from northeastern Syria, where they had fought alongside Kurdish forces against ISIS, but he has since agreed to leave behind a residual force of about 200 soldiers.

The US is currently working with Western allies in the anti-ISIS coalition to establish an international force that would train security forces capable of stabilizing parts of Syria.

US officials say ISIS is on the verge of losing its last piece of territory in Syria.

– with reporting by Agence France-Presse

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