Several Russians killed in United States airstrikes in Syria, friends say

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a meeting with his Italian counterpart in Moscow

Their reported deaths come after the US-led coalition struck the Coneco plant last Wednesday in retaliation for an attack on an SDF base near the gas field on the eastern bank of the Euphrates river. He gave no further details.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo also refused to confirm specifics when asked whether the U.S. was responsible for killing Russian contract soldiers in Syria during a hearing on Tuesday, but said, "We have seen in multiple instances foreign forces using mercenaries in battles that will begin to approach the United States".

It said the strikes, which reportedly killed about 100 of the attackers, were in self-defense.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Tuesday that the account of Russian dead in Deir Ezzor was only "information published in the media", adding that he did not believe Yavlinsky had "more reliable sources of information".

The US-led coalition in Syria attacked pro-Damascus forces in Dayr al-Zawr on February 7 in what it claimed to be defensive strikes.

The report of Russian mercenaries being killed by US-backed forces is just the latest scuffle in Syria between various countries and regional actors.

"It was self-defense. Obviously, we are not getting engaged in the Syrian civil war", Secretary of Defense James Mattis said of the USA strikes over the weekend.

The Russians claim a handful of Russian "paramilitary contractors" were killed in the battle, while the Syrian government says US troops and their allies killed nearly a hundred Russians. On Tuesday he said, "I don't have any reporting" about Russian contractors being among the casualties.

"It continued to move, so we... executed self-defense rules of engagement to protect ourselves". The coalition said that the pro-regime forces were "likely seeking to seize oilfields" in the resource-rich Deir Ezzor, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday the "Americans have taken risky unilateral steps". Elements of both sides are fighting the last remnants of the Islamic State group in Syria.

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In December past year, President Vladimir Putin ordered the partial retreat of Russian troops from Syria.

Russian forces are backing Assad while the United States is backing multiple opposition groups.

One U.S. official and three Russian officials familiar with the incident all corroborated it with Bloomberg, telling the outlet of the Syrian forces' failed attack against a U.S. -held military base and refinery.

"We don't have information about other Russians who might be in Syria".

Those remarks about maintaining communication with Russian officials through deconfliction lines echo similar statements made following last week's attack.

"This is a big scandal and a reason for an acute global crisis", said Vladimir Frolov, a former Russian diplomat and lawmaker who's now an independent political analyst.

At the height of the multi-frog war in Syria, the scenario where American troops would injure or even kill Russian mercenaries is something many in the defense industry and military commentators feared the most.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova emphasized that the five victims weren't Russian servicemen.

"I will not speculate on the composition of this force or whose control they were under", Lieutenant General Jeffrey Harrigian, a spokesman for US Central Command, said. The most obvious and probably the real one is that the Russians saw a cheap chance to chase the United States out of Syria by trapping a couple of thousand US Special Forces troops.

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