US Strikes Killed Scores of Russians in Syria Last Week

U.S. Forces And Russian Mercenaries Clash in Syria

The T-72 battle tank has a 1970s Soviet-era design - the same type of tank was involved in last week's attack on SDF headquarters, the Pentagon said.

After a week of unanswered questions, Russia acknowledged Thursday that five of its citizens may have been killed by a US strike in Syria, the first time Russians have died at USA hands in Syria's chaotic battlefield.

'It continued to move, so we ... executed self-defense rules of engagement to protect ourselves.' For the most part, the US-led coalition has managed to skirt the edges of Syria's civil war by staying focused on the Islamic State group.

Deir Ezzor is the center of Syria's gas and oil industry, which ISIS captured and exploited to finance its operations.

Sources told Bloomberg that USA forces killed more than 200 contract soldiers, mostly Russians fighting on behalf of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, last week. CNN identified several of the slain Russians on Tuesday; they were portrayed as a mixture of mercenaries and "ultranationalists". According to U.S. officials, a force of some 500 crossed the Euphrates River near Deir Ezzor, along with tanks, missile launchers and artillery.

Dozens of Russian mercenaries killed in a USA airstrike in Syria last week were part of a secret Kremlin-backed private military company, according to US and Ukrainian officials.

Some media reports said dozens or even hundreds of Russian mercenaries were killed in the attack but Zakharova dismissed these claims as "classic disinformation" spread by anti-regime militants.

"We were told there were no Russians" taking part in the build-up and assault, Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters Tuesday while en route to a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ministerial in Brussels.

Neither the Kremlin nor the Russian Ministry of Defense talks about private military contractors in Syria.

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

More than 40 Russian military personnel have died in Syria since Moscow launched a campaign of air strikes in September 2015 in support of President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

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"Russian officers maintained continuous communication with U.S. military officials through the deconfliction hotline", ISW wrote, "to obfuscate Russia's direct role in the incident".

However, Damascus considers the USA operations in Syria illegal, saying Washington was aiding "terrorists" against the legitimate government of the Middle East country.

Much about the attack and the associated casualties has been obscured in the fog of war.

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.

"I want to stress once again that we are not talking about Russian servicemen", Zakharova said, without any clarification as to who the Russian nationals were or what they were doing in northern Syria.

Commenting on the incident, the Russian Defense Ministry said that the attack showcased that the real goal behind Washington's "illegal military presence in Syria" was control over the country's economic assets rather than defeating the terrorist group ISIL.

Russian contractors are not the same as regular Russian soldiers, but U.S. and Russian forces have operated close to each other on opposite sides of the Syrian conflict for years.

As yet, a handful of names of Russians killed in the one-sided battle have emerged.

What about the Russian mercenaries? Those claims could not be verified.

An SDF base near the Euphrates River "deconfliction line" set to avoid clashes between the two sides in Deir al-Zor Province was the site of the February 7 incident.

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