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Scores of Russian mercenaries reportedly killed by USA airstrikes in Syria

14 February 2018

As details continue to emerge of last week's United States attacks on pro-Syrian forces, it appears that dozens, or by some accounts scores, of the slain were actually Russian military contractors working for the Syrian government.

It said in a statement last week that the operation came after some 500 pro-government forces attacked a group of US-backed opposition forces in the region.

The incident underscored the potential for further conflict in Syria's oil-rich east, where the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias holds swathes of land after its offensive against Islamic State.

The associates named the dead as Vladimir Loginov, a Cossack from Russia's western Kaliningrad region, and Kirill Ananyev, a radical nationalist from Moscow.

Putin has said at least three times since 2016 that combat operations in Syria were winding down, including once during a surprise visit to a Russian air base in Syria in December.

Retired Gen. Vladimir Shamanov, head of the defense committee in the lower house of Russia's parliament, said the government needs to oversee private military contractors.

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The Americans say their presence in Syria is necessary not only to solve military issues, "but until there is a stable political process there that should end with the transition of power that would be acceptable to all, that is, regime change". Putin talked with U.S. President Donald Trump by phone Monday, but the military action in Syria wasn't discussed, he said.

Top Photo | Russian soldiers walk outside a hospital in Deir el-Zor, Syria, Sept. 15, 2017.

Harrigian said the attack by the pro-Assad forces was not a surprise since the US and its partners had observed them engaged in a slow buildup the week before the attack.

Defense Officials have not clarified what flag the men inside the tank fought under, though reports have indicated that they may have been Russian mercenaries, as numerous unconfirmed reports from Syria have indicated that a large number of Russian contractors have been fighting alongside Syrian forces in support of President Bashar al Assad. For reasons that remain unclear, Syrian government troops and some Russian nationals appear to have attacked a coalition position, near Al Tabiyeh, Syria.

But beyond Russia's official military engagement in Syria backing the regime, an unknown number of Russian mercenaries are fighting as part of Assad's army.

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This incident is not the first time Russian mercenaries have been reported to be operating in Syria. The firm has not commented on the reports.

Asked about the killing of Russian mercenaries in Syria, CIA Director Mike Pompeo told a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in Washington Tuesday that he would leave specifics to the Pentagon but "we have seen in multiple instances foreign forces using mercenaries in battles that will begin to approach the United States". "I advise you to contact the defence ministry".

The rift deepened after Turkey launched an operation targeting the YPG in the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in northern Syria on January 20, despite calls by the us for restraint.

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"This is a big scandal and a reason for an acute global crisis", said Vladimir Frolov, a former Russian diplomat and lawmaker who's now an independent political analyst.

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Scores of Russian mercenaries reportedly killed by USA airstrikes in Syria