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Russians 'killed in US Syria air strikes'

From BBC - February 13, 2018

At least two Russian fighters were killed in US air strikes in north-eastern Syria last week, their associates have told the BBC.

The fighters are said to have been hired by private military firms backing Syrian pro-government troops.

Russia has not confirmed the deaths that were first reported by US media, saying such reports should not be treated as "primary sources".

The US says it killed more than 100 fighters in the strikes last week.

What happened in the US strikes?

The US officials say hundreds of fighters aligned with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad attacked positions of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) near the town of Khursham in the Deir al-Zour province.

They crossed the Euphrates River, shelling an SDF base, where American advisers were present.

The US responded with air and artillery strikes on 7 February, thwarting the attack and forcing the pro-Assad fighters to retreat, the US officials say.

Syrian state media have reported that the strikes left dozens killed, accusing the US of a "brutal massacre".

Meanwhile, the Russian defence ministry says that Syrian government-backed troops were hit as they launched an operation against fighters from the Islamic State (IS) group.

Russia also denies having personnel in the area.

The strikes happened in the Middle Euphrates Valley, which serves as an informal demarcation line in eastern Syria. The government controls the western side and the SDF the east.

The two sides have clashed over the past year while trying to drive Islamic State (IS) militants from their last major stronghold in the country.

What about the Russian mercenaries?

Quoting a Pentagon official, CBS News first reported on 8 February that Russian mercenaries were among "pro-regime" forces that attacked the SDF base.

"If Russians are among those who were killed, this would mark the first time a US air strike has killed Russians in Syria," CBS News' David Martin reported.

More details about those killed in the strikes began to emerge in the following days.

How did the Kremlin react?

What are Russia's casualties in the Syrian conflict?

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