Multiple reports indicate that Russian military contractors were among the dead in air and artillery strikes launched Wednesday by the US military in the northeastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor against forces loyal to the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
The Pentagon unleashed devastating firepower against the pro-government fighters on the pretext that they were mounting an attack against a headquarters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the US proxy ground force that is dominated by the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia. US special forces troops directing the activities of the Kurdish proxies were stationed at the headquarters in the zone of influence carved out by the US intervention in Deir Ezzor, northeast of the Euphrates River.
Bombs and missiles were rained down upon the force, which reportedly included between 300 and 500 infantry, backed by tanks and artillery. US F15 fighter jets, Apache helicopters, AC-130 gunships and unmanned drones were all called in to attack the force, along with US artillery units.
According to Pentagon sources, 100 of the Syrian fighters were killed in the barrage. The Syrian government reported “dozens” killed in what it described as an unprovoked “massacre” and a “war crime.”
Iran’s Tasnim news agency quoted Syrian sources as reporting that several Russian military advisors were killed in the attack, which took place in the Khasham gas field in Eastern Deir Ezzor.
In the Washington Post, the newspaper’s columnist David Ignatius, who is well-connected to the US military and intelligence apparatus and is currently reporting from US-occupied areas in Syria, quoted a Kurdish militia commander working with the US special forces. The Kurdish commander, identified as General Hassan, told Ignatius that
“the casualties included some Russians, apparently from the mercenaries fighting alongside pro-regime forces.”
Moscow has insisted that it had no uniformed military personnel in the area, but Russian private military contractors have provided significant forces in support of the Assad government.