Last week we reported how pro-Assad forces attacked the US coalition in eastern Syria. There’s new updates on that conflict…more on that in a minute.
But apparently there was another attack this weekend and the US was forced to destroy a Russian tank:
JUST IN: US jet destroys Russian T-72 battle tank in E Syria in 'self-defense' Saturday after 'pro-regime forces' fired on US special ops and allied Syrian fighters near same location of last week's attack, officials say. No US or allied casualties. 3 inside tank killed.— Lucas Tomlinson (@LucasFoxNews) February 13, 2018
UPDATE: U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone destroyed Russian-made T-72 tank in E Syria Sat on same say Iranian drone shot down over Israel. Tank came from “same hostile forces” which attacked US special ops troops and allied Syrian fighters late last week, officials say https://t.co/OMKmzvABiy— Lucas Tomlinson (@LucasFoxNews) February 13, 2018
This sounds like a much, much smaller attack than the first one we reported on. In fact it sounds like it was just a small continuation of that attack.
As I said there are new reports on the first attack against the US coalition by pro-Assad forces. It turns out most of those fighting on behalf of the Assad government were Russian mercenaries:
BLOOMBERG – U.S. forces killed scores of Russian mercenaries in Syria last week in what may be the deadliest clash between citizens of the former foes since the Cold War, according to one U.S. official and three Russians familiar with the matter.
More than 200 contract soldiers, mostly Russians fighting on behalf of Syrian leader Bashar al-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 of the Russians said. The U.S. official put the death toll at about 100, with 200 to 300 injured.
The Russian assault may have been a rogue operation, underscoring the complexity of a conflict that started as a domestic crackdown only to morph into a proxy war involving Islamic extremists, stateless Kurds and regional powers Iran, Turkey and now Israel. Russia’s military said it had nothing to do with the attack and the U.S. accepted the claim. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called the whole thing “perplexing,” but provided no further details.
President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, declined to comment on reports of Russian casualties, saying the Kremlin only tracks data on the country’s armed forces. Putin talked with U.S. President Donald Trump by phone Monday, but the military action in Syria wasn’t discussed, he said.
Last week’s offensive began about 8 kilometers (5 miles) east of the Euphrates River de-confliction line late Feb. 7, when pro-Assad forces fired rounds and advanced in a “battalion-sized formation supported by artillery, tanks, multiple-launch rocket systems and mortars,” Colonel Thomas F. Veale, a spokesman for the U.S. military, said in a statement.
The U.S., which has advisers stationed at the base alongside Syrian Democratic Forces troops, responded with aircraft and artillery fire.
“Coalition officials were in regular communication with Russian counterparts before, during and after the thwarted, unprovoked attack,” Veale said. No fatalities were reported on the coalition side and “enemy vehicles and personnel who turned around and headed back west were not targeted.”
It’s not clear who was paying the Russian contingent, whether it was Russia directly, Syria, Iran or a third party. Reports in Russian media have said Wagner — a shadowy organization known as Russia’s answer to Blackwater, now called Academi — was hired by Assad or his allies to guard Syrian energy assets in exchange for oil concessions.
Most of those killed and injured were Russian and Ukrainian, many of them veterans of the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine, according to Alexander Ionov, who runs a Kremlin-funded group that fosters ties to separatists and who’s personally fought alongside pro-government forces in Syria.
Clearly these Russian mercenaries had been armed and sent by someone as they had tanks, rocket launchers, artillery and mortars. My guess would be they were sent by Russia, who heavily criticized the US in a statement afterward:
While Russia’s Defense Ministry didn’t mention mercenaries in its statement, it did say 25 “Syrian” fighters were injured, without elaborating. It accused the U.S. of using its “illegal presence” in Syria as an excuse to “seize economic assets,” even as it kept lines of communication with the U.S. open.
Assad’s government in Damascus called the U.S. military action “barbaric” and a “war crime.”
They could have been fighting indirectly for Assad or Iran. But my question is that if Assad wanted this territory back, why wouldn’t he send his own Army to seize it? Why would he depend on a bunch of Russian mercenaries?
Perhaps the answer to that lies in the fact that a big chunk of these mercenaries died and were also injured.