In the deadliest clash between U.S. and Russian-backed forces since the Cold War, over 100 Russian mercenaries are dead after fighting in Syria, Bloomberg reported Tuesday.
“More than 200 contract soldiers, mostly Russians fighting on behalf of Syrian leader Bashar Assad, died in a failed attack on a base held by U.S. and mainly Kurdish forces in the oil-rich Deir Ezzor region,” two Russians told Bloomberg.
“The U.S. official put the death toll in the fighting at about 100, with 200 to 300 injured, but was unable to say how many were Russians.”
The offensive took place last week and may have been a rogue operation. Colonel Thomas F. Veale, a spokesman for the U.S. military, said that forces loyal to the Syrian leader advanced in a “battalion-sized formation supported by artillery, tanks, multiple-launch rocket systems and mortars” and fired rounds at the base.
U.S. and Syrian Democratic Forces troops returned fire.
“Coalition officials were in regular communication with Russian counterparts before, during and after the thwarted, unprovoked attack,” Veale said.
He added that “enemy vehicles and personnel who turned around and headed back west were not targeted.”
No deaths were reported on the U.S. or Syrian Democratic Forces side.
“It’s not clear who was paying the Russian contingent, whether it was Russia directly, Syria, Iran or a third party,” Bloomberg reported.
The incident is yet another complication in the low-level proxy conflict in Syria that has been taking place between the United States, who favors Assad’s removal, and Russia, who favors the regime.
While operations against the Islamic State group — which neither side was particularly fond of for obvious reasons — put the proxy conflict on the back-burner, it seems to have come to the fore again now that the terrorist organization has mostly been vanquished.
The incident obviously could lead to hotter fighting — and quickly. Anything is possible once bullets and bombs start flying. But Russia, for its part, seems to want to cool things down after the incident.
“No one wants to start a world war over a volunteer or a mercenary who wasn’t sent by the state and was hit by Americans,” Vitaly Naumkin, a senior adviser on Syria to the Russian government, said, according to Bloomberg.
Discussions between the United States and Russia over just what sparked the incident are currently ongoing. Hopefully, a suitable solution can be found before things take a turn for the worse.
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