Published: Wed, February 14, 2018
Global Media | By Garry Long

Russian mercenaries killed in United States strike on pro-Assad forces

Russian mercenaries killed in United States strike on pro-Assad forces

If confirmed, the news from Tuesday could further inflame tensions between Russian Federation and the US.

But Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and other US officials said they had no such information on casualties, and the Kremlin did not confirm any Russian deaths.

More than 200 mercenaries, mostly Russians fighting for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, died during a failed attack on a base held by USA and Kurdish forces in the oil-rich Deir Ezzor region.

But occasional attacks on pro-regime forces, which the USA says are conducted in self defence, raise the risks of America being sucked into a broader conflict.

"The Kremlin - seeking to play down its involvement in the fighting in Syria and seemingly hoping to avoid escalating tensions with the United States - has sidestepped questions about the episode", the New York Times wrote of Sunday's drone strike on a Russian-made tank.

Mr Yavlinsky said fierce mercenary forces "are trained at Russian army facilities" and "receive military awards in the Kremlin" in secret.

United States officials added that the Russian government had lodged no complaint about its citizens being killed.

Bloomberg, however, reported that three Russian sources told them the attack was conducted by Russian mercenaries, and that as many as 200 Russian "contract soldiers" died in the attack.

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At least 100 Russian mercenaries were killed by American-backed military forces during an attack on a US-held base in Syria, according to reports. The Kremlin says the fighters killed were mercenaries, not Russian soldiers, and thus this wasn't a clash between the two nations' militaries.

The Russian Defense Ministry said its troops weren't involved in the operation.

The episode could further strain ties between the two countries. The Trump administration is under investigation for alleged collusion with Moscow during the USA presidential campaign to tilt the election in Trump's favor, and a Senate committee found that Russian Federation had acted to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Russian Federation downplayed the incident with America's military assets.

He also said Putin didn't speak about anything related to Syria in a phone conversation with U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday.

Russian Federation officially withdrew regular forces from Syria in December after two years of fighting in support of President Bashar al-Assad, but hundreds of private military contractors and mercenaries remained. Syria retaliated with anti-aircraft missiles, downing an Israeli F-16 jet. The death toll cited in the recordings ranges from 177 people killed in one squadron to 200-215 people.

As to who they killed, U.S. officials are no more forthcoming than they ever are, with Lt. Gen. Harrigian saying the USA is "not going to speculate" on who they killed, and that they flat out don't know whose tank it was, or who was driving it. He was targeted by US sanctions after the Treasury Department said the company had recruited former soldiers to join the separatists fighting in Ukraine.

Russian Federation signed a "road map" agreement with Assad's government last month to assist in rebuilding the nation's electricity network. Similar to Lebanon's civil war a few decades earlier, regional powers have seized on the unrest to wage their own proxy wars, and sometimes waded in directly. "The coalition observed a slow buildup of personnel and equipment the previous week, and we reminded Russian officials of the SDF and coalition presence via the telephone deconfliction line".

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