According to the unnamed US and Russian sources, "more than 200 mercenaries, mostly Russians fighting on behalf of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, died in a failed attack on a base and refinery held by U.S. and U.S.-backed forces in the oil-rich Deir Ezzor region" In terms of total body count, the U.S. official put the death toll at about 100, with 200 to 300 injured.
In a bizarre deflection of responsibility, Russia’s military not only did not demand an explanation from the US for the deaths, but said it had nothing to do with the attack and the U.S. military accepted the claim. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has called the whole thing “perplexing,” but provided no further details.
“Coalition officials were in regular communication with Russian counterparts before, during and after the thwarted, unprovoked attack,” U.S. Colonel Thomas F. Veale, a military spokesman, said in a statement. “Russian officials assured coalition officials they would not engage coalition forces in the vicinity.”
The deadly fight began about 8 kilometers (5 miles) east of the Euphrates River de-confliction line late on Feb. 7, when adversaries fired rounds and advanced in a “battalion-sized dismounted formation supported by artillery, tanks, multiple-launch rocket systems and mortars,” 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.”
Shortly after the attack, al-Masdar reported that the pro-government "ISIS Hunters" released an official statement on Sunday condemning the US Coalition’s airstrikes that killed several members of the Syrian Armed Forces on February 7th.
The ISIS Hunters specifically condemned both the US Coalition and the Kurdish forces that are currently in control of the majority of the northeastern countryside of Deir Ezzor. There was, however, no mention that many of the fighters killed were Russian mercenaries.
Many of the Russians killed or injured were veterans of the Ukraine conflict, according to Alexander Ionov, the head of a Kremlin-funded organization that fosters ties to separatists who’s fought alongside pro-Assad forces in Syria. It’s not clear who was paying the soldiers of fortune, whether it was Russia directly, its allies in the war, Syria and Iran, or a third party.
Bloomberg has also identified the mercenary outfit involved in the attack. According to reports in local media, Wagner - a shadowy organization often referred to as Russia’s answer to Blackwater, the U.S. military company now called Academi - was hired by Assad or his allies to guard Syrian energy facilities in exchange for oil concessions.
There’s a refinery in Deir Ezzor that once funded Religion of Cuck™ic State operations that’s now “crucial” to Assad’s plans to finance the reconstruction of Syria once a peace deal is finally reached, according to Yury Barmin, a Middle East analyst at the Russian International Affairs Council in Moscow.
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