Syria: Russians killed in US-led Syria attack: Report
MOSWCOW: At least several private Russian military contractors were killed by a US strike in Syria, Russian media reported on Tuesday in a development that could further inflame Russia-US tensions if officially confirmed. President Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov refrained from commenting on the reports about the deaths last week, saying on Tuesday they need to be verified.
Asked if Putin raised the episode during Monday’s phone conversation with US President Trump, Peskov said the situation in Syria wasn’t discussed during the call. Media said the Russian private contractors were part of pro-government forces that advanced on oil fields in the Deir el-Zour province and were targeted by the US.
The reports cited activists who confirmed that at least four Russian citizens were killed in Syria on Wednesday. US military said last week it launched air and artillery strikes on Syrian government-backed troops after some 300 attackers launched what appeared to be a coordinated assault on Syrian opposition forces accompanied by US advisers in Deir el-Zour.
It said it was in regular communication with Russian counterparts before, during and after the attack, and Russian officials assured coalition officials they would not strike coalition forces. It said the US strikes, which reportedly killed about 100 of the attackers, were in self-defence.
The Russian defence ministry said 25 Syrian volunteers were wounded in the US strike and insisted that its troops weren’t involved in Wednesday’s incident. It said pro-government forces that advanced toward the area under control of the US-supported forces had failed to coordinate their action with the Russian military in Syria.
US defence secretary Jim Mattis on Thursday dismissed any suggestion that Russia had any control over the attacking force, whose nationalities, motives and makeup he could not identify. The US strike came as US-backed Kurdish-led forces were vying for control of the oil-rich Deir el-Zour province with Russian-backed Syrian troops that are reinforced by Iranian-supported militias. Without mentioning the US strike, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov noted Tuesday that “Americans have taken dangerous unilateral steps.”