US air strikes kill 'up to 100' Russian fighters in Syria
US air and artillery strikes have killed Russian combatants in the first lethal violence in Syria between the two nuclear powers, according to sources on both sides.
The battle, which was briefly alluded to in a US-led coalition statement last week, took place in the oil-rich Deir Ezzor province in eastern Syria. On February 7, a large force loyal to Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, fired at a Syrian Democratic Forces base manned by Kurdish troops and American military advisers, a US military spokesman told Bloomberg yesterday.
The US, which was communicating with the Russian side during the clash, drove the attackers back with aircraft and artillery fire, suffering no fatalities, the spokesman said.
Reports have varied widely, claiming anywhere from a handful to more than 100 Russians were killed and describing them alternately as military troops or private contractors. The clash appears by some estimates to have been the deadliest between the US and Russia since the Cold War.
On Monday, the Russia-based independent research group Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT) published the names of four Russians killed by the US strike.
It said the men were mercenaries from the Wagner group, a highly secretive private military company.
Friends and relatives confirmed to 'RBC' newspaper that the men had been killed in Syria on February 7. CIT said yesterday that three other Russians were also killed in the attack - the only time Russians had been killed by the Western coalition.
The independent newspaper 'Novaya Gazeta' reported that 13 Russian had been killed and 15 wounded.
Igor Strelkov, a nationalist with links to Russian intelligence, said 100 Wagner employees had died in the US strikes.
Bloomberg quoted Russian sources as saying that 200 professional soldiers, most of them Russian, were killed, while an American official said about 100 had been killed.
In a statement last week, the Russian defence ministry said the US strike had hit Syrian rebels by mistake, injuring 25 of them.