Russian Mercenaries Decided to “Test” the American Response in Syria. They Were Obliterated

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The civil war in Syria has taken an interesting turn. Russian backed forces loyal to the Syrian President Bashar Assad deliberately crossed into a neutral zone last week. Reports suggest their goal was to see just how far they could push the U.S. backed forces. The answer they received was clear, and unambiguous.

The incursion occurred on February 7th. Russian military contractors and forces loyal to the Syrian government crossed into neutral territory. They began firing tank rounds toward a base that belongs to the Syrian Democratic Forces.

Estimates suggest as many as 500 pro-Syrian forces and Russian contractors took part in the incursion. They brought with them tanks, 122mm howitzers, and rocket launchers.

The neutral zone was established by an agreement between the Russian military and the U.S.-led coalition. The pro-Syrian forces were moving into the area to see just how much ground they could gain before they faced retaliation.

T-55 and T-72 tanks fired as many as 30 tank rounds. These shells landed within 500 feet of the base. Dana White, the Pentagon press secretary, acknowledged that there were U.S. troops in the base at the time.

The retaliation came quickly. The U.S. forced brought “AC-130 gunships, F-15s, F-22s, Army Apache helicopter gunships, and Marine Corps artillery,” according to Lucas Tomlinson, a Fox News reporter. Himars and MQ-9 drones were also deployed.

“First of all, the bombers attacked, and then they cleaned up using Apaches,” Yevgeny Shabayev, a Cossack paramilitary leader with ties to Russia’s military contractors, told Reuters.

The Russian-backed side took heavy losses. Estimates from the pro-Syrian side put the number of casualties at 300. The U.S. is acknowledging 100 dead. Russia has said five of its citizens were killed.

The pro-government side took away some valuable insights. As Business Insider points out, “the pro-government forces operated without air cover from Russia’s military.” That allowed for the U.S. and coalition forces a decided advantage.

The U.S. has indicated that it contacted Russia ahead of their onslaught. Unnamed sources told Reuters that the Russian military had been notified 20 minutes before a counter attack began.

The US-led coalition apparently warned Russia of the attack, but it’s unclear whether Russia’s military passed on notice to the troops on the ground.

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

This is the latest dust-up, and perhaps the bloodiest, in our ongoing war in Syria. The U.S. forces there are fighting ISIS. Yet they often end up fighting militants and soldiers backed by Russians, or led by Russian contractors. The situation has led some to call it a proxy war.

Yet we remain. “As the US’s stated mission in Syria of fighting ISIS nears completion,” BI writes, “others have taken center stage. The US recently said it would seek to stop Iran from gaining control of a land bridge to Lebanon, its ally, citing concerns that Tehran would arm anti-US and anti-Israeli Hezbollah militants if given the chance.”

Until then, the civil war rages on and the U.S. continues to push for democratic elections and the end of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s rule.