It became clear on Tuesday that US airstrikes last week in eastern Syria killed an unknown number of Russian mercenaries fighting on behalf of the Syrian government. But both the US and Russia continued to dismiss the possibility that the deadliest clash known between US and Russian nationals since the Cold War could lead to open conflict between the two nation’s forces.
That’s because Russia has never acknowledged that it has been using military contractors in the region, and US military officials have gone to great lengths not to define the composition of the “pro-regime forces” its air assets struck on Feb. 7. The surge of details seeping out on Tuesday — through social media posts from family members in Russia, from Syrian rebel commanders, and local news reports — provided enough information, however, to know that something dramatic had taken place.
Here’s what people on the ground say happened
A commander of Jaysh Usud al-Sharqiya, a Syrian rebel group, on Tuesday confirmed reports to BuzzFeed News that Russian private military contractors were killed by the US-led coalition. He cited sources who live in the region where the attack took place, an area that had been under the control of his rebel faction until a US-backed Kurdish force took over.