Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Russian Mercenaries are Leading the Attacks on American Troops and Allies in Syria

American forces in Syria, along with their local partners, have now weathered two separate attacks from troops fighting on behalf of dictator Bashar Al Assad, one of which almost certainly involved some number of Russian military personnel or contractors from a company called Wagner. Though the United States soundly defeated its opponents in both cases, the incidents could be another sign of increasingly worrisome tensions with Russia in Syria as the situation in the country careens toward a larger regional conflagration.

On Feb. 13, 2018, U.S. personnel called in a air strike, involving an MQ-9 Reaper drone, to destroy a T-72 tank that had been firing at them and members of the American-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the bulk of which are Kurdish fighters, on the eastern side of the Euphrates River near Syria’s strategic city of Deir ez-Zor.

Almost a week earlier, those same American troops had summoned a massive amount of air and artillery support to brush back approximately 500 pro-Assad fighters and members of Wagner armed with tanks and other heavy weapons who assaulted their positions. The SDF and their U.S. advisers are situated to the east of a formal de-confliction line that is supposed to separate United States and Russian military activities and, by extension, those of their allies, specifically to avoid these sorts of dangerous engagements that could escalate into a larger conflict. The first skirmish reportedly resulted in the deaths of dozens of Russian private military contractors, who often act as deniable stand-ins for the Kremlin’s own forces.

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