Mattis denies killing of Russian mercenaries by U.S. strikes in Syria

Adjust Comment Print

Last week, CBS television reported that the Syrian pro-government forces, which allegedly attacked the headquarters of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Syria's Deir ez-Zor province on February 7, included Russian citizens. Associated Press reporters Deb Riechmann and Josh Lederman contributed from Washington and Lolita C. Baldor from Brussels. I don't have any reporting that some Russians, non-Russian Federation soldiers, but Russian contractors, were among the casualties. I can't give you anything on that.

"We recommend in that case to reach out to the Defense Ministry, since here we're dealing with information published in media".

The Conflict Intelligence Team, a group of well-respected Russian online researchers, said it had found three Twitter posts announcing the deaths of Russian mercenaries in Syria on 7 February.

In what may be the deadliest clash between citizens of the former Cold War foes, the Deir Ezzor attack involved hundreds of Russian and Ukrainian mercenaries, who were fighting for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces, according to the two Russians. According to USA officials, a force of some 500 crossed the Euphrates River near Deir Ezzor, along with tanks, missile launchers and artillery.

While the United States has claimed all of its recent attacks on pro-Syrian forces in the country as "self-defense", the claim rings hollow since they've killed in excess of 100 people while sustaining no casualties of their own, and doubly so in this latest case because they were defending a drone by killing three soldiers of unknown origin.

However, Harrigian refused to speculate on the composition of the hostile force.

US Defense Secretary James Mattis also said he has no information that Russian army servicemen were among the casualties following the US airstrike.

Over the weekend, reports emerged on Russian blogs and elsewhere that an unknown number of Russian contract soldiers were killed.

The US and Russian Federation are now involved in a proxy war in the region, with Putin supporting al-Assad forces and Trump training and equipping the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

At no point, a USA military spokesman said, was there any chance of direct conflict between US and Russian ground forces. "We don't have data about other Russians who could be in Syria".

Vladimir Loginov, a 52-year-old Cossack from Russia's western Kaliningrad exclave "died in an unequal battle in the area of Syria's Deir Ezzor", the Baltic Cossack Union in Kaliningrad said in a statement, according to AFP.

Moscow launched a military operation in Syria in support of President Assad on 30 September 2015.

Ionov said not all those killed were Russian: Some of the paid fighters came from other countries that were once part of the Soviet Union. A St Petersburg company known as PWC Vagner has been one of the most prominent.

The Pentagon said that the attack wounded only one SDF soldier. Bloomberg quotes Russian sources who say about 200, while the New York Times uses "perhaps dozens" in its account. If Russian deaths from the US strike are confirmed, it would mean the two countries were on the verge of a direct military confrontation in Syria.

Russia's military has said it had nothing to do with the attack and the US accepted the claim.