US Strikes Kill 100 Russian Soldiers In Syria
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.
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 incident, already about five times more than Russia’s official losses since it entered the war in 2015, is still rising, according to one mercenary commander. He said by phone on condition of anonymity that dozens of his wounded men are still being treated at military hospitals in St. Petersburg and Moscow.
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 Islamic 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.
In its statement about the attack, Russia’s Defense Ministry seemed to refer to the refinery, accusing the U.S. of using its “illegal presence” in Syria as an excuse to “seize economic assets” instead of fighting terrorists.