'Dozens' Of Russian Mercenaries Reportedly Killed In US Airstrikes In Syria

Violet Powell
February 14, 2018

What is not disputed is the fast-changing, often confusing nature of a battlefield in which forces of multiple countries are bumping up against one another, raising the prospect of violent collisions.

The strike was the second by the US against "pro-regime" forces since Wednesday, according to the USA military's Central Command. It accused the USA of using its "illegal presence" in Syria as an excuse to "seize economic assets", even as it kept lines of communication with the US open. The U.S. official put the death toll at about 100, with 200 to 300 injured.

The Russians, who were fighting on the side of embattled Syrian leader Bashar al Assad, attacked a military base in the Deir ez-Zor region of Syria on February 7, according to the Bloomberg report. Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, commander of USA air forces in the Middle East, told reporters a broad range of US air power was unleashed.

Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesman, said the coalition had spoken with Russian Federation via a special hotline prior to the strike "to avoid misperceptions and miscalculations that could endanger each other's forces".

The coalition contacted Russian counterparts via the telephone deconfliction line before striking the T-72 tank, according to a coalition spokesperson, Col. Ryan Dillon. Alexander Ionov, a Russian businessman working in Syria offering security and other services, said he estimated after conversations with associates in several private military organizations that more than 200 Russians might have been killed.

The Russian Defense Ministry, which insisted that its troops weren't involved in the incident, said 25 Syrian volunteers were wounded in the US strike.

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He said: "They are, in essence, special troops of the Russian army - despite the fact that mercenaries and private military companies are officially banned in Russia".

"Those steps look increasingly as part of efforts to create a quasi-state on a large part of Syrian territory from the eastern bank of the Euphrates all the way to the border with Iraq", Lavrov said, in remarks that highlighted the geopolitical jostling in Syria in the wake of the fight against Isis.

It's unclear who had been paying the Russian mercenaries - whether it was Russia directly, Syria or a third party remains unknown. This may be the deadliest encounter between American and Russian citizens since the Cold War. Those claims couldn't be verified. He deferred on the specifics on the incident to the Pentagon.

Ionov said not all those killed were Russian, and that some were from other parts of the former Soviet Union. "Russian officials assured coalition officials they would not engage coalition forces in the vicinity".

The general pressed the points that US forces are focused on ISIS in Syria, they were not "looking for a fight", and the deadly strikes were ordered in self-defense.

The Kremlin on Tuesday said it had no information about the alleged killing of Russian mercenaries during last week's coalition airstrikes on pro-government forces in Deir Ezzor province, Reuters reported. Putin and Trump spoke by phone on Monday, but reportedly did not discuss the Syria incident.

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