Russian mercenaries in Syria (source)
On the back of a bombshell report of the deaths of Russian soldiers fighting for President Assad's forces in Syria that came through last night while this news site's contributors were sleeping, this morning Bloomberg claims an exclusive story, according to which the Russian body count is far greater than had been disclosed: U.S. forces reportedly killed "scores" of Russian contract soldiers in Syria last week "in what may be the deadliest clash between citizens of the former foes since the Cold War", Bloomberg reported.
NB: Russia News Agencies have since dismissed this story as 'fake news'. With that caveat we leave it online as neither side can be believed with full confidence and only time will reveal what really happened.
According to unnamed US and Russian sources quoted by Bloomberg, "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"
The U.S. official estimated the death toll for Russians fighting on the ground in Syria at about 100, with 200 to 300 injured.
This development may not be as dangerous as it first seems: the Russian involvement in this engagement is not officially mandated, these are mercenaries not personnel serving in the Russian military, and the 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."
For these reasons Russia’s military not only did not lodge an official protest or demand an explanation from the US for the deaths, but said it had nothing to do with the attack. The U.S. military accepted that claim. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has called the whole thing “perplexing,” but gave 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 took place about 8 kilometers (5 miles) east of the Euphrates de-confliction zone on Feb. 7, when opposing forces opened fire and in a "battle 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. Echoing the sentiment, the government in Damascus called the U.S. action “barbaric aggression” and a “war crime.”
In troubling news for Putin, however, the death toll from the skirmish, already about five times more than Russia’s official losses since it entered the war in 2015, is still rising, according to a mercenary commander who anonymously that dozens of wounded men are being treated at military hospitals in St. Petersburg and Moscow.