US strike in Syria kills Russian fighters in first such clash

A US air and artillery strike has killed Russian combatants in the first lethal violence in Syria between the two nuclear powers, according to sources on both sides. 

The battle, which was briefly alluded to in a US-led coalition statement last week, took place in the oil-rich Deir Ezzor province in eastern Syria.

On 7 February, a large force loyal to Bashar al-Assad and supported by tanks and artillery advanced and fired at a Syrian Democratic Forces base manned by Kurdish troops and American military advisors, a US military spokesman said in a statement to Bloomberg on Tuesday. 

The United States, which was communicating with the Russian side during the clash, drove the attackers back with aircraft and artillery fire, suffering no fatalities, the spokesman said. 

On 10 February, a US drone destroyed an advancing Russian-made T-72 tank from the “same hostile force,” the US military said on Tuesday.

While reports have varied widely, claiming anywhere from a handful to more than a hundred Russians were killed and describing them alternately as military troops or private contractors, the 7 February clash nonetheless appears to have been the deadliest between US and Russian citizens since the Cold War

A US military adviser shakes hands with a Kurdish commander in Manbij in northern Syria last week Credit: Susannah George/AP Photo

On Monday, the Russia-based independent research group Conflict Intelligence Team published the names of four Russians who had been killed by the US strike. It said the men were mercenaries from the Wagner group, a highly secretive private military company whose alleged commander was photographed with Vladimir Putin in 2016. 

Friends and relatives confirmed to RBC newspaper that the men had been killed in Syria on 7 February. Conflict Intelligence Team told The Telegraph on Tuesday that three other Russians were also killed in the attack, which it said was the only time Russians had been killed by the Western coalition.

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