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Russian mercenaries killed in USA strike on pro-Assad forces

14 February 2018

Russian media said Russian private contractors were part of pro-government forces that advanced on oil fields in the eastern Deir el-Zour province and were targeted by the United States.

The US-led coalition said it repelled that attack near the Euphrates River by hundreds of troops aligned with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who were backed by artillery, tanks, multiple-launch rocket systems and mortars.

An American drone destroyed a Russian-made T-72 battle tank operating in eastern Syria on Saturday, according to the us military's command unit responsible for forces in the Middle East - which added the strike was in "self defense".

At least two Russian fighters were killed in United States air strikes in north-eastern Syria last week, their associates have told the BBC.

At the time of the February 7 attack, the Russian defence ministry said "there are no Russian servicemen in Deir-Ezzor". Alexander Averin, a spokesman for the nationalist party he was linked to, told Reuters Ananiev had been killed in shelling in the same fighting on Feb 7.

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If Russian deaths from the USA strike are confirmed, it would mean the two countries were on the verge of a direct military confrontation in Syria.

"We are focused on a singular enemy - ISIS", said the Air Force general.

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.

Russia's denied any official involvement. Ankara has repeatedly warned against the repercussions of using one terrorist group to defeat another, while the US has been touting the "effective results" of its cooperation with the YPG in the fight against Daesh. However, it is possible that the Russian military was not aware of the attack planned by the Russian contract soldiers acting on orders of the Assad regime.

In a statement last Wednesday, the USA coalition spokesman Colonel Thomas F. Veale refused to go into details about the possible make-up of the militia, saying they would "not speculate on the exact make-up of the Syrian pro-regime forces who conducted the attack".

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Russian Federation has given Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government crucial support throughout the seven-year war in Syria, which began with a government crackdown on protests. They counted on the US having too little time to target them without risking casualties among its mainly Kurdish allies, but strikes began when only half the force had made it to the base, Kommersant newspaper reported, citing a former comrade of the mercenaries.

"This is a big scandal and a reason for an acute global crisis", said Vladimir Frolov, a former Russian diplomat and lawmaker who's now an independent political analyst.

This incident is not the first time Russian mercenaries have been reported to be operating in Syria. I can't give you anything on that. The Other Russia group said Ananyev was killed in battles near the Syrian town Khasham, where the USA coalition carried out its strikes.

"The fact that somebody chose to attack us, and the Russians are saying, "It's not us, ' and we are firing on them to stop the artillery fire, that, to me, is not a failure of the deconfliction line", Mattis explained". Citing unverified preliminary reports "from Syria" he claimed that as many as 644 could have been killed.

It is unclear who was paying the mercenaries involved in last week's attack, or what group they were a part of, but reports of a Russian private military company (PMC) by the name of Wagner have surfaced throughout the last few years.

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Russian mercenaries killed in USA strike on pro-Assad forces