American military forces killed as many as 100 Russian mercenaries during an assault on a US-held base in Syria last week, based on a report Tuesday.
Scores of soldiers, largely a mixture of Russians and Ukrainians fighting on the side of Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad, stormed the base held by US and Kurdish forces within the Deir Ezzor area, Bloomberg News reported.
Two Russians informed the web site that 200 of their countrymen died in the failed assault, however a US official mentioned the death toll was about 100 with 200 to 300 others wounded.
No US casualties have been reported.
The conflict is believed to be the deadliest incident between US and Russian citizens since the end of the Cold War.
The assault on the base in an oil refinery might have been a rogue operation by the Russian forces, highlighting the complicated civil war in Syria that has involved a grab bag of fighters from the US, Russia, stateless Kurds, the Islamic State and local powers Iran, Turkey and Israel within the war-torn nation, the report mentioned.
Russia’s military denied any involvement and US Defense Secretary James Mattis described it as “perplexing” with out elaborating.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov wouldn’t touch upon the casualties, saying Moscow only tracks the nation’s armed forces.
Russian forces have been propping up Assad through the seven-year war and started backing his regime with troops and firepower in 2015.
The assault started last Wednesday when pro-Assad fighters approached in a “battalion-sized formation supported by artillery, tanks, multiple-launch rocket systems and mortars,” Col. Thomas F. Veale, a spokesman for the US military, mentioned in a statement to Bloomberg.
The US, which has advisers deployed alongside Syrian Democratic Forces, repelled the assault with a mixture of aircraft and artillery fire.
“Coalition officials were in regular communication with Russian counterparts before, during and after the thwarted, unprovoked attack,” Veale stated.
It’s unclear who was paying the contingent of Russians and Ukrainians, however reports in Russian media mentioned a shadowy group known as Wagner, a private military contractor much like Blackwater in the US, was employed by Assad.