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Foreign Ministry says 5 Russians killed in US strike in Syria

18 February, 2018, 06:56 | Author: Kristen Ingram
  • Syrian pro-government members hold a position as they stand on the back of an armoured vehicle in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor

Russian has supported Assad during the seven-year civil war and began providing military support to his regime in 2015.

Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, blamed Iran for the latest round of fighting and said advisers from the Islamic Republic and its ally, the Lebanese Hezbollah, planned on staying in Syria.

The US-led coalition drone destroyed the Russian-designed tank in eastern Syria close to the scene of last week's attack on pro-regime forces that left more than 100 Damascus loyalists dead.

Lt. General Jeffrey Harrigan, commander of the US Air Forces Central Command, told reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday that the airstrike was an act of self-defense.

The U.S. counterattack involved the use of F-15 fighter jets, B-52 bombers, AC-130 gunships and Apache combat helicopters as well as MQ-9 Reaper drones. He said the air power stopped the attackers' advance and destroyed an unspecified number of artillery guns and battle tanks.

"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. He insisted the US had not yet determined the nationalities of those in the attacking force.

Until Thursday, officials for both countries said they had no information on Russian losses in the clash, which came when pro-government forces attacked positions of the US -backed Syrian Kurdish fighters and faced a ferocious USA counterattack.

However, many Russian citizens are fighting in Syria as mercenaries working for a private military company called Wagner, according to numerous reports. Some of the wounded fighters are brought to the hospitals of the Russian Defense Ministry, Bloomberg says.

"The assumption is that these are Russian citizens". The private fighters allow the Kremlin to keep the official death toll from its campaign in Syria low, helping to avoid negative publicity about Russia's involvement in Syria as Putin runs for re-election in the country's March 18 presidential vote.

The Pentagon initially said it had killed 100 fighters in its February 7 attack, which took place on the western bank of the Euphrates River.

Moscow denies that any significant number of Russians were killed in the United States strike, calling the reports, "distorted data", while urging the media to ignore the "erroneous information". Those claims couldn't be verified. Russian and Syrian officials ha d estimated that dozens of Russians had been killed, The New York Times reported. Although it has not yet been confirmed, multiple reports have indicated that the coalition advisors that were engaged by the tank along with the SDF were likely U.S. Special Operations troops, in Syria to provide training and support to American-backed forces.

The Russians claim a handful of Russian "paramilitary contractors" were killed in the battle, while the Syrian government says US troops and their allies killed nearly a hundred Russians.

"We do not have a fight with [Syrian] pro-regime forces", Col. Dillon said. "I advise you to contact the defence ministry".

Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov wouldn't comment on the casualties, saying Moscow only tracks the country's armed forces.

He said the US moves are eroding Syria's territorial integrity by sponsoring the creation of power structures independent from Damascus, noting that Moscow has raised those concerns in contacts with the U.S.

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