Russians among the casualties in deadly Syria strikes by U.S.-led forces

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Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters ride atop military vehicles as they celebrate victory in Raqqa, Syria, October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

Dozens of pro-Syrian government fighters, including at least four Russian nationals, were killed after a clash against the United States-led coalition in the eastern part of the country.

A Syrian military officer has said that about 100 Syrian soldiers were killed during a clash between pro-government forces and the coalition on Feb. 7 and 8. However, information about Russian casualties is only starting to trickle out via Russian news organizations and social media.

The coalition has said that the pro-regime forces carried out an unprovoked attack against them in territory controlled by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), prompting the coalition to strike back with what it called defensive artillery fire and air strikes.

The clash occurred near oil-rich territory Deir al-Zour when some 500 pro-regime forces carried out an attack in the SDF territory. Most of the casualties were attributed to an American airstrike that was called in by the SDF to target enemy columns.

The coalition did not confirm Russian presence among the forces that had attacked the SDF stronghold, and they denied that there was a direct conflict between U.S. and Russian forces.

“Coalition officials were in regular communication with Russian counterparts before, during and after the thwarted, unprovoked attack,” said Col. Ryan S. Dillon, a spokesman for the American military. “Russian officials assured coalition officials they would not engage coalition forces in the vicinity.”

The Kremlin, on the other hand, is looking to avoid further escalating tensions with the United States and has sidestepped inquiries about the reported Russian casualties. It said that any Russians fighting alongside the Syrian forces were mercenaries and that no member of the Russian military was killed.

“We only handle the data that concerns Russian forces servicemen,” said Dmitri S. Peskov, a spokesman for Kremlin. “We don’t have data about other Russians who could be in Syria.”