In response a Russian liaisons officer reportedly assured coalition officials that they would not engage coalition forces in the vicinity However, in spite of the assurances, the mercenary battalion still attacked, prompting the targeted site to fire back, according to the USA and SDF version of events. This may be the deadliest encounter between American and Russian citizens since the Cold War.
The incident appears to be the first publicly known case of the USA military firing on and killing Russians fighting on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called the whole thing "perplexing", but provided no further details.
Earlier on Monday, one of the Russian presidential candidates, Grigory Yavlinsky, urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to provide a "report" on "numerous" Russian nationals that were allegedly killed in Syria.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo also refused to confirm specifics when asked whether the U.S. was responsible for killing Russian contract soldiers in Syria during a hearing on Tuesday, but said, "We have seen in multiple instances foreign forces using mercenaries in battles that will begin to approach the United States".
Russian Federation does not rule out that the United States intends to stay in Syria for a long time, "if not forever", he went on.
The Syrian government labeled the strikes as an unnecessary act of "aggression."
As the Islamic State's dominance in the region has been decimated, state actors have entered the fill the power vacuum.
What are Russia's casualties in the Syrian conflict?
The comments by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov come after reports surfaced this week alleging that a number of Russian men fighting informally alongside the Syrian government were killed in clashes between the USA -led coalition and pro-government fighters who attacked a headquarters of the Syrian Democratic Forces near the town of Khusham.
"The tank had been maneuvering with coordinated indirect fire on a defensive position occupied by Syrian Democratic Forces and Coalition advisers". He added, "Russian officials assured coalition officials they would not engage coalition forces in the vicinity". The coalition did not suffer any fatalities and "enemy vehicles and personnel who turned around and headed back west were not targeted".
The United States initially said that about 100 pro-government forces were killed in the February 7 counterattack. Their deaths are not listed as casualties by the Russian government, meaning the true cost of Russia's intervention could be higher than the official count.
It remains unknown who was paying the Russian fighters, whether it was Russia itself, Syria, or Iran.
Last week, Mattis dismissed any suggestion that Russian Federation has any control over the attacking force.
The US military said it destroyed the tank after it moved within firing range of the US-backed forces while being supported by artillery fire.
Harrigian said he would "not speculate on the composition of the attacking force" or about whose command it was under. "We're dealing with an unusual situation", though it shouldn't be blown out of proportion, he said.
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.
While Russia's Defense Ministry didn't mention mercenaries in its statement, it did say 25 "Syrian" fighters were injured, without elaborating.
Of course, if indeed Russian soldiers were killed while fighting under covert circumstances - in the same way as killed U.S.
Indeed, and as we noted last night, if and when the deaths are officially confirmed, it could turn into a political scandal for Putin, with the public demanding why the government is keeping military deaths under wraps.
Reuters reported the names of at least two Russian men fighting informally with pro-Assad forces who were killed in the incident in Deir al-Zor province, citing interviews with their associates.