The proxy war in Syria between the United States and Russia has drawn blood between the two superpowers.
The Russian foreign ministry has confirmed today that five Russian mercenaries were killed in a massive US counterattack on a pro-Assad Syrian assault in the northeastern part of the country.
But the United States claims over 200 possible Russian casualties in the strike on a base held by an American and Syrian Democratic Forces coalition. Colonel Thomas F. Veale is reported by Bloomberg Politics to have said the onslaught was highly organized in a “battalion-sized formation supported by artillery, tanks, multiple-launch rocket systems and mortars”.
The apparently unprovoked attack came as a shock to coalition forces, who reported that after taking hundreds of casualties, the pro-Assad forces fled west in disarray. The coalition did not sustain any casualties.
Reports coming out of Russia suggest that the mercenaries were tied to Wagner, a Blackwater-esque organization based in the Russian Federation. It has been proposed that they were paid by Assad to protect oil interests in the region.
Russian deaths at the hands of US forces mark a first in the complex conflict, according to CBS News national security correspondent David Martin. Russian troops, backing pro-Assad forces in Syria, and American troops – backing rebel forces – maintain constant contact with each other to avoid such mishaps.
The risks of such collisions carry the consequences of direct war between the two nations. The consequences of such a conflict keep both countries tip-toeing around each other while navigating the convoluted war in pock-marked Middle Eastern country.
Vitaly Naumkin, an advisor to the Kremlin regarding Syria, said that, “no one wants to start a world war over a volunteer or a mercenary who wasn’t sent by the state and was hit by Americans”. Russia and the United States are currently in talks with each other to determine the proper course of action to take, if any.
The almost 7-year-long Syrian Civil War, which arose out of the Arab Spring protests of 2011, shows no signs of abating. The local conflict quickly turned into an international proxy war, as superpowers sought to protect their interests in the region. The war pits the Syrian government, backed by Russia, against rebel forces composed of Arabs, Kurds, and Turkmen -backed by NATO. Both sides seek to destroy the last remnants of ISIL in Syria.