Russian Mercenary Attack In Syria Reportedly Meant To 'Test' US Military Resolve

news

More details have emerged from a massive battle in Syria that is said to have pitted hundreds of Russian military contractors and Syrian and Iranian pro-government fighters against the U.S. service members and their Syrian rebel allies — and it looks as if it was a mission to test the United States' resolve.


Bloomberg first reported this week that Russian military contractors took part in what the United States called an "unprovoked attack" on a well-known headquarters of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a rebel cohort the U.S. has trained, equipped, and fought alongside for years.

Reuters cited several other sources on Friday as confirming that Russian contractors were among the attackers and that they took heavy losses. The purpose of the attack, which saw 500 or so pro-government fighters get close to the U.S.-backed position, was to test the United States' response, Reuters' sources said.

Initial reports said that Syrian regime forces launched a coordinated attack that included about 500 regime troops, 122mm howitzers, tanks, and multiple launch rocket systems.

A source close to the Russian military contracting firm, Wagner, told Reuters that the majority of the 500 were Russians, and they advanced into a zone designated as neutral under a deal between the Russian military and the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS.

The Russian-led troops reportedly sought to find out how the U.S. would react to the encroachment into what should be a neutral zone.

Regime forces operating Russian-made T-55 and T-72 tanks fired 20-30 tank rounds within 500 feet of the SDF base, which held some U.S. troops, according to Pentagon press secretary Dana W. White.

The U.S.-led coalition responded with "AC-130 gunships, F-15s, F-22s, Army Apache helicopter gunships and Marine Corps artillery," according to Fox News reporter Lucas Tomlinson. CNN also reported that HIMARS and MQ-9 drones were used in the attack.

Related: The US Has Nearly Defeated ISIS in Syria, But It May Be Stumbling Into A Bigger War With Russia And Iran »

"First of all the bombers attacked, and then they cleaned up using Apaches (attack helicopters)," Yevgeny Shabayev, a Cossack paramilitary leader with ties to Russia's military contractors, told Reuters.

An anonymous source told Reuters that Bloomberg's report that 300 Russians died was "broadly correct." The U.S. reported more than 100 dead.

The Pentagon maintains that only one SDF fighter was injured in the attack.

The pro-regime forces operated without air cover from Russia's proper military. The U.S. warned Russia of the attack, but it's unclear if Russia's military passed on notice to the troops on the ground.

"The warning was 20 minutes beforehand, in that time it was not feasible to turn the column around," a source told Reuters.

An instructor with the Syrian Democratic Forces observes a Syrian Arab trainee clear his rifle during small arms training in Northern Syria, July 31, 2017.U.S. Army/Sgt. Mitchell Ryan

Reports increasingly indicate that Russia has taken to using military contractors as a means of concealing their combat losses as they look to bolster Syrian President Bashar Assad's flagging forces.

Igor Girkin, the former defense minister for the self-declared Donetsk Peoples Republic, a separatist region backed by Russia in eastern Ukraine, said last week that Russian mercenaries operating in Syria who died in combat were cremated on sight to hide the true cost of Russia's involvement.

As the U.S.'s declared mission in Syria of fighting ISIS nears completion, its other motives have taken center stage. The U.S. recently declared it would stop Iran from gaining control of a land bridge to its ally, Lebanon, citing concern that Tehran would arm anti-US and anti-Israeli Hezbollah militants if given the chance.

On top of that mission, the U.S. appears intent on staying on top of Assad's oilfields in the east, to deny him the economic infrastructure to regain control of the entire country and to force UN-sanctioned elections.

The pro-regime attempt to test the U.S. military in Syria proved costly, and it appears now that without the full air power of the Russian military behind them, Assad's forces may be too weak to budge the U.S.

More from Business Insider: 

WATCH NEXT:

The U.S. military's withdrawal from northeast Syria is looking more like Dunkirk every day.

On Wednesday, the U.S. military had to call in an airstrike on one of its own ammunition dumps in northern Syria because the cargo trucks required to safely remove the ammo are needed elsewhere to support the withdrawal, Task & Purpose has learned.

Read More Show Less

Retired two-star Navy. Adm. Joe Sestak is the highest ranking — and perhaps, least known — veteran who is trying to clinch the Democratic nomination for president in 2020.

Sestak has decades of military experience, but he is not getting nearly as much media attention as fellow veterans Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii). Another veteran, Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) has dropped out of the race.

Read More Show Less

After preliminary fitness test scores leaked in September, many have voiced concerns about how women would fare in the new Army Combat Fitness Test.

The scores — which accounted for 11 of the 63 battalions that the ACFT was tested on last year — showed an overall failure rate of 84% for women, and a 70% pass rate for men.

But Army leaders aren't concerned about this in the slightest.

Read More Show Less
This photo taken on Oct. 7, 2018, shows a billboard that reads "The State Central Navy Testing Range" near residential buildings in the village of Nyonoksa, northwestern Russia. The Aug. 8, 2019, explosion of a rocket engine at the Russian navy's testing range just outside Nyonoksa led to a brief spike in radiation levels and raised new questions about prospective Russian weapons. (AP Photo/Sergei Yakovlev)

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Three U.S. diplomats have been removed from a train and briefly questioned by Russian authorities in the sensitive Arctic shipyard city of Severodvinsk, near the site of a mysterious explosion in August that killed five nuclear workers.

Russia's Interfax news agency reported on October 16 that the diplomats were taken off the train that runs between Severodvinsk and Nyonoksa around 6 p.m. on October 14.

Read More Show Less

The U.S. Coast Guard had ordered the owner of an illegal 45-foot charter boat, named "Sea You Twerk," to stop operating.

He didn't, the Coast Guard said.

Now, Dallas Lad, 38, will serve 30 days in federal prison, a judge ruled Friday. When he is released, Ladd of Miami Beach, who pleaded guilty, will not be able to own or go on a boat for three years.

Read More Show Less