On Wednesday, February 7, the US engaged in a massive attack on pro-government fighters in Syria, claiming to have killed around 100 of them in what was described as an act of “self-defense.” This was the response to claims that artillery fire landed half a kilometer from a Syrian Kurdish base in Deir Ezzor.
As details from the ground continue to emerge, however, the attack was an even bigger deal than the one Syria’s government already took to the UN Security Council as a massacre, with in excess of 200 fighters actually believed to have been killed by the US, and scores of Russians among them.
The slain are believed now to have been military contractors working for the Syrian government, and that included a large number of Russian contractors. Though such reports were initially dismissive of the deaths of mere “mercenaries,” killing scores of Russians in Syria is a big deal.
After all, the Russian military is involved in the Syrian War, supporting the government that hired these contractors. Imagine the US reaction if scores of American contractors, in one of America’s many wars, just got wiped out by some other nation’s military. It’s hard to imagine that wouldn’t provoke a reaction.
US-Russia tensions over Syria have been rising for some time, but this is the first substantial incident of killings. That it was followed days later by a US drone destroying a Russian tank in the same region, with the same “self-defense” claim. Such incidents, despite being downplayed by the Pentagon, risk bringing the US and Russia into direct military conflict within Syria, a long-standing concern about the war.