Russians Believed Killed in US Syria Attack

US forces drive their armored vehicles near the northern Syrian village of Darbasiyah

The attackers were originally labeled as "pro-Assad" fighters, but Bloomberg reports that they may have been Russian mercenaries working for the shadowy private military company known as Wagner.

A United States official said that 100 fighters loyal to President Assad of Syria, many thought to be Russian, died in a failed attempt to storm a base manned by United States special forces and US-backed Arab and Kurdish troops in the Deir ez-Zor region, east the Euphrates River.

It said in a statement last week that the operation came after some 500 pro-government forces attacked a group of US-backed opposition forces in the region.

While the Kremlin has declined to comment, and no independent party has yet verified the reports, USA and Russian aligned forces have fought on opposite sides of the Syrian conflict and in close proximity for years.

"The Kremlin - seeking to play down its involvement in the fighting in Syria and seemingly hoping to avoid escalating tensions with the United States - has sidestepped questions about the episode", the New York Times wrote of Sunday's drone strike on a Russian-made tank.

"We don't have information about other Russians who might be in Syria".

According to previous CNN reports, the global US-led coalition against Daesh (banned in Russia) on February 7 struck Syrian pro-government forces.

Vladimir Frolov, a former Russian diplomat and lawmaker who's now an independent political analyst in Moscow, said the clash marked the first such armed exchange between the two powers since the Vietnam War.

What are Russia's casualties in the Syrian conflict?

Reports from inside Russian paramilitary units suggest up to 200 Russians had been killed.

Meanwhile Israeli military assets - funded by USA taxpayers - are engaged in a proxy war of their own in Syria against Iran, another supporter of the Assad regime.

The use of mercenaries, which remains illegal in Russian Federation despite some talk of regulating it, allows Russian Federation to avoid reporting casualties, according to Mark Galeotti, a senior research fellow at the Institute of International Relations in Prague. He added, "Russian officials assured coalition officials they would not engage coalition forces in the vicinity". That number would be more than double the 44 Russian service members who the government says have been killed in action in Syria since October 2015.

The Guardian says that if the high number of casualties is confirmed, it would be "the most lethal clash between USA and Russian citizens since the end of the cold war".

At no point, a US military spokesman said, was there any chance of direct conflict between USA and Russian ground forces. The reports coincide with the release of the names on Twitter of six Russian men killed in Syria last week.

Retired Gen. Vladimir Shamanov, head of the defense committee in the lower house of Russia's parliament, said the government needs to oversee private military contractors. However, although the fight against Daesh has nearly ended, the USA still continue to support the SDF/YPG with arms and military equipment.

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