US Strikes Killed Scores of Russia Fighters in Syria, Sources Say

Syrian pro-government forces patrol in the eastern city of Deir el Zour in November

The U.S. -led coalition said it thwarted an "unprovoked attack" by pro-government fighters on a Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) headquarters in Deir Ezzor province after midnight Wednesday.

According to US Central Command, American and Kurdish forces came under fire from a tank, prompting three hours of intensive air strikes against an estimated 300 to 500 fighters loyal to Syrian leader 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.

One US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said at least two pro-Syrian government forces were killed.

A Syrian military officer says about 100 Syrian soldiers were killed on February 7 and 8.

"If there was a large-scale loss of life of Russian citizens, the relevant officials, including the commander-in-chief of our armed forces (Putin), are obliged to tell the country about it and decide who carries responsibility for this", Yavlinsky said in a statement released by his Yabloko party.

Footage has been released showing T-72 tank being destroyed as the U.S. military boasted it had killed more than 100 mercenaries from Russian Federation in a series of devastating airstrikes.

Vitaly Naumkin, perhaps Russia's most prominent Syria expert, also urged restraint in a news conference at the Valdai Discussion Club.

Asked at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing about Russian deaths, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said, "From an intelligence perspective, we have seen in multiple instances foreign forces using mercenaries in battles that will begin to approach the United States". They have nothing to gain by fighting us. According to Bloomberg, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke with President Trump by phone on Monday, but the incident was not discussed.

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Mevlut Cavusoglu also told reporters in Istanbul that ties between Turkey and the USA are at a "very critical stage", the Associated Press said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment on the incident, in which the death toll of private Russian soldiers may have been five times greater than the Russian Defense Ministry's official count of servicemen who have died in Syria.

The US military has confirmed that it has attacked pro-government forces in eastern 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.

However, Russian law forbids the hiring of mercenaries or working as one.

Wagner, which is under U.S. sanctions for supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine, has several hundred contractors in Syria, according to analysts.

Russian officials said that no Russian forces were involved in the attack, according to the New York Times. "It is notable that the posts about their deaths emerged rather quickly - relatives and colleagues often learn of Russian mercenaries' deaths weeks or even months after the fact", the group said in a post. I can't give you anything on that. Moscow helped turn the tide of the conflict in his favor by launching a campaign of air strikes in 2015 and stepping up its military presence on the ground.

Widespread reports suggest Russian military contractors drove the tank and had been behind multiple attacks on the U.S. and its allies in Syria.

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