On February 7th, American and coalition forces in Syria watched a build-up of opposition fighters, including hundreds of Syrian government fighters and Russian mercenaries, that were arming for battle. When the attack came, it was brutal and decisive. A new report is shedding light on the ill-fated battle that ensued and the complete annihilation of the enemy’s troops.
Russian military contractors were among those killed in a U.S. airstrike in Syria last weekhttps://t.co/9Mkh2uR9qB
— The Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) February 14, 2018
“The artillery barrage was so intense that the American commandos dived into foxholes for protection, emerging covered in flying dirt and debris to fire back at a column of tanks advancing under the heavy shelling,” The NY Times writes. “It was the opening salvo in a nearly four-hour assault in February by around 500 pro-Syrian government forces — including Russian mercenaries — that threatened to inflame already-simmering tensions between Washington and Moscow.”
There were around 40 Americans involved in the fight. By the time it was finished, there were some 300 opposition fighters dead. None of the Americans were killed. It was a stunning victory for the coalition forces.
“The firefight was described by the Pentagon as an act of self-defense against a unit of pro-Syrian government forces.” The Times writes. “United States military officials said they had watched — with dread — hundreds of approaching rival troops, vehicles and artillery pieces in the week leading up to the attack.”
Everyone understood what direct conflict between Russian and American troops would signify. That gave the Americans pause. They called their Russian counterparts on special phones that they use to deescalate such tensions.
Yet the soldiers were still gathering in the Deir al-Zour Province of Syria. Russia denied any connection to the groups that were gathering. American surveillance picked up numerous Russian radio transmissions, yet Russian officials said they had nothing to do with them.
“The Russian high command in Syria assured us it was not their people,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told senators in March. Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was given clearance “for the force, then, to be annihilated.”
“And it was.”
“A team of about 30 Delta Force soldiers and Rangers from the Joint Special Operations Command were working alongside Kurdish and Arab forces at a small dusty outpost next to a Conoco gas plant, near the city of Deir al-Zour,” The Times notes.
A team of Green Berets and a platoon of Marines were monitoring the situation with drones.
“At 3 p.m. the Syrian force began edging toward the Conoco plant. By early evening, more than 500 troops and 27 vehicles — including tanks and armored personnel carriers — had amassed,” The Times notes.
At nearby bases, pilots and flight crews were put on standby. On the ground, the U.S. forces made preparations. They armed themselves with provisions and small arms capable of taking out artillery and tanks.
As night fell, the enemy mobilized. Before midnight, they unleashed a massive barrage of artillery and tank fire.
The American forces, according to reports, took cover and continued communication with the Russians. For 15 minutes, they urged them to stop the attack.
The attack didn’t stop.
“American warplanes arrived in waves, including Reaper drones, F-22 stealth fighter jets, F-15E Strike Fighters, B-52 bombers, AC-130 gunships and AH-64 Apache helicopters. For the next three hours, American officials said, scores of strikes pummeled enemy troops, tanks and other vehicles. Marine rocket artillery was fired from the ground,” The Times writes.
Using thermal imaging, the teams on the ground advanced. They had to cover 20 miles to get to the other Americans who were pinned in the Conoco plant. But at 1:00 a.m., the planes pulled back.
The American teams were able to join forces. The mercenaries had lost most of their vehicles by that point, so were regrouping and coming on foot.
“A handful of Marines ran ammunition to machine guns and Javelin missile launchers scattered along the berms and wedged among the trucks. Some of the Green Berets and Marines took aim from exposed hatches. Others remained in their trucks, using a combination of thermal screens and joysticks to control and fire the heavy machine guns affixed on their roofs,” The Times reports.
More American bombers were inbound, and the troops on the ground used laser guidance to pinpoint targets for the airstrikes.
After holding them off from the ground, the second waive of airstrikes decimated the remaining enemy forces. No American troops were harmed. Only one of the allied Syrian fighters was hit, and he was not killed.
So who was it, really, that was behind the attack? “American intelligence officials say that the Wagner Group, known by the nickname of the retired Russian officer who leads it, is in Syria to seize oil and gas fields and protect them on behalf of the Assad government,” The Times concludes.
That, though, is speculation. Since the attack, Russian government forces have stepped up their efforts to jam the types of communications that were used in the American defensive effort.
“Right now in Syria, we’re in the most aggressive [electronic warfare] environment on the planet from our adversaries,” Gen. Tony Thomas, the head of United States Special Operations Command, said recently.