UN envoy: This time in Syria is dangerous, violent, worrying

US forces drive their armored vehicles near the northern Syrian village of Darbasiyah

US forces drive their armored vehicles near the northern Syrian village of Darbasiyah

The Pentagon said they were created to protect U.S. backed rebel fighters in Syria on Saturday against forces loyal to dictator Bashar al-Assad - which are in turn supported by Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Russian news reports say at least several private Russian military contractors have been killed by a USA strike in Syria. Pressed by reporters in Thursday's conference call as to whether Putin ordered information about Russian casualties kept from the public, Peskov denied it. Reports in Russian media have said Wagner - a shadowy organization known as Russia's answer to Blackwater - was hired by Assad or his allies to guard Syrian energy assets in exchange for oil concessions. She added that the citizenship of those killed had not been verified, but clarified that they were not Russian military personnel.

"We do not have a fight with [Syrian] pro-regime forces", Col. Dillon said.

U.S. officials first explained that some 500 "pro-Syrian regime forces", using Russian-made T-54 and T-72 tanks, attacked a "well-established headquarters" of the SDF in the Middle Euphrates River Valley in Deir al-Zor Governorate, eight kilometers east of the river.

Last week the USA unleashed an air and artillery barrage on Syrian government-backed troops after some 300 attackers launched what appeared to be a coordinated assault on Syrian opposition forces accompanied by U.S. advisers in the province of Deir el-Zour.

She accused Iran, a key Syrian ally, of sending fighters to every front of the conflict and of launching a drone into Israeli territory last week in "an egregious and unprompted escalation".

USA airstrikes in Syria killed 100 pro-regime forces including an unknown number of Russian contractors who were fighting alongside them.

Grigory Yavlinsky, a liberal Russian politician who is running in next month's presidential election, also suggested there were Russian deaths in Syria. The official statement of the Russian Defense Ministry said, "The reason for the incident was that the reconnaissance and search operations of the Syrian militants were not coordinated with the command of the Russian operational group", wrote Russian state news agency TASS.

He said Ananyev had been fighting in Syria for more than a year and was killed when "American artillery smashed the Wagner unit".

The Pentagon said the incident was in response to a barrage of artillery and tank fire from several hundred "pro-regime" fighters in Deir el-Zour province, an area in eastern Syria where the last ISIS fighters have converged among oil fields.

Later, he told reporters: "We are doing everything to prevent any major worldwide confrontation".

If those numbers hold, it could be the deadliest clash between citizens of the United States and Russian Federation since the end of the Cold War.

But a US official speaking to Reuters on the condition of anonymity said that two pro-government fighters were killed in Sunday's defensive strike, which targeted an armored vehicle approaching USA -backed forces in the al-Tabiyeh region of Deir Ezzor.

The Russia-based company is said to be under the employ of the Syrian government, and it's not clear Russia would have immediate knowledge of casualties inflicted on the contractor inside Syria, let alone the nationalities of them. "I think that's still the case but we don't have full clarity on what the regime forces are doing there", Mattis said.

"The fact that somebody chose to attack us, and the Russians are saying, "It's not us, ' and we are firing on them to stop the artillery fire, that, to me, is not a failure of the deconfliction line", Mattis explained".

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