Forces hit by United States in Syria included Russian mercenaries, official says

Susannah George  APAmerican troops look out toward the border with Turkey from a small outpost near the town of Manbij northern Syria Feb. 7 2018

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is supported by Russian Federation and by Shi'ite militias backed by Iran, has said he wants to take back every inch of Syria.

The coalition's counter-attack killed more than 100 regime forces, Reuters reported, but a Syrian commander said that only seven were killed and 27 were injured.

This is not the first time the United States military has clashed with pro-regime forces in Syria.

"We are not looking for a conflict with the regime", White said.

Syrian activists say the death toll from airstrikes and shelling of eastern suburbs of the capital Damascus has risen to at least 56.

But while ISIS has lost over 98% of its territory in Syria numerous other objectives outlined by Tillerson are still fraught with difficulty.

It coincides with heightened tensions between the United States and the Syrian government as the Islamic State war appears to be winding down, leaving eastern Syria roughly partitioned between US-backed forces and the Russian-backed Syrian government. In a statement, Russia's Defense Ministry said that the coalition strike was carried out by helicopters, and that it had wounded 25 Syrian insurgents. Syrian government forces are active on the other side of the river around the city of Deir el-Zour.

The Syrian Democratic Forces have managed to capture much of Syria's oil and gas infrastructure after ejecting ISIS from those areas.

A USA military official explained that the pro-Assad forces were "likely seeking to seize oilfields in Khusham that had been a major source of revenue for [ISIS] from 2014 to 2017".




To complicate matters, two U.S. defense officials told CNN that the U.S. military now assesses that Russian contractors, believed to be funded by the Russian government, participated in Wednesday's assault.

Col. Thomas F. Veale said Wednesday's attack by pro-regime forces was large-scale, involving battle tanks, rocket launchers and artillery.

Assad's regime has also ramped up its attacks against opposition forces, with U.S. officials accusing his forces of using chemical weapons like chlorine in recent weeks.

The U.S. -led coalition was set up in 2014 to battle Islamic State fighters in both Syria and Iraq, who were largely defeated past year.

A handout photo made available by the U.S. Department of Defense shows two U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors flying above Syria on February 2.

"The recent incident once again shows that the United States' illegal military presence in Syria is actually aimed at taking control of the country's economic assets and not at fighting against the ISIS global terror group", said a statement issued by the Russian Defense Ministry.

Shortly after Tillerson's speech and an announcement by the U.S. military that it meant to work with the Syrian Democratic Forces to establish a border security force in order to secure areas liberated from ISIS, Turkey launched a major military operation targeting Kurdish groups in Afrin, Syria. "We will ask our American counterparts how they see all that".

The Turkish officials said two leaders also agreed that efforts to create "observation posts" in Syria's Idlib province as part of a "de-escalation" agreement between Turkey, Russia and Iran should gain momentum. Turkey has demanded that United States troops withdraw from that area. "The incident was caused by uncoordinated reconnaissance and search operations plans of the Syrian militias with the Russian command task force in the locality of Salhiyah".

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