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At least 100 Russian fighters are killed by U.S.-backed military in Syria, sources say
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U.S. backed military forces have reportedly killed at least 100 Russian mercenary soldiers in Syria.
The incident occurred when the mercenaries, mainly Russians and Ukrainians fighting in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, stormed a U.S. and Kurdish-held military base in the oil-rich Deir Ezzor region, Bloomberg News reports, citing a U.S. official and three Russians familiar with the matter.
The U.S. source placed the toll at about 100, with 200 to 300 injured. Russian sources claim that more than 200 were killed. No American casualties were reported.
Whatever the number, reports of the incident bring to mind the former Soviet-U.S. Cold War years.
Official Russian military sources have denied any involvement in the raid on the U.S. base, prompting speculation that the attack may have been a “rogue operation.” The New York Post reported:
The attack on the base in an oil refinery may have been a rogue operation by the Russian forces, highlighting the complex civil war in Syria that has involved a hodgepodge of fighters from the U.S., Russia, stateless Kurds, the Islamic State and local powers Iran, Turkey and Israel, the report said.
U.S. officials also denied knowledge of any Russian casualties. Without elaborating further, Defense Secretary James Mattis described the situation as “perplexing.” The BBC also reported that “Mattis insisted that despite the media reports he did not have information that ‘Russian contractors’ were among the casualties.” He said yesterday:
I can’t give you anything on that, we have not received that word at Central Command or the Pentagon.
The attack took place Wednesday of last week, Col. Thomas F. Veale, a spokesman for the U.S. military, told Bloomberg in a statement. He said it began when pro-Assad fighters approached the U.S.-held base in a “battalion-sized formation supported by artillery, tanks, multiple-launch rocket systems and mortars.”
CBS News was the first to report that Russian mercenaries may have been involved, citing a Pentagon official.
Official Russian sources had little to say about the incident — Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, “declined to comment on reports of Russian casualties” on Monday.
Today, Peskov told journalists that “We in the Kremlin do not possess detailed information that would enable us to draw conclusions. It cannot be ruled out that there may be citizens of the Russian Federation [fighting] in Syria. They are not connected to the armed forces of the Russian Federation.” Putin himself has yet to make a public statement on the matter.
Vladimir Frolov, a former Russian diplomat and lawmaker, wasn’t quite as tight-lipped.
“This is a big scandal and a reason for an acute international crisis,” said Frolov, who’s currently an independent political analyst. “But Russia will pretend nothing happened.”
In constant contact
American coalition forces met and repelled the attack with a combination of aircraft and artillery fire, and kept Russia continuously informed. “Coalition officials were in regular communication with Russian counterparts before, during and after the thwarted, unprovoked attack,” Veale said.
The complexity of the Syrian situation can be summed up by the long cast of characters fighting there. Apart from mercenaries, they include Russian, Turkish, and U.S. ground troops, as well as Islamic State fighters and other factions, such as the Iranian-backed Lebanese Hezbollah militants.
It’s a stark reminder of the reality that the U.S. and Russia are backing opposing sides in the worsening conflict in Syria — making it more likely that such dangerous clashes could occur again and further jeopardize the already tense relationship between the two superpowers.
One thing’s for sure though — reports like this make the media’s revered Trump-Russia collusion narrative even harder to swallow.
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