According to reports from the Department of Defense, a Russian-made T-72 Main Battle Tank was destroyed by a drone strike after it attempted to engage Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the coalition advisors working alongside them in Syria on Saturday, one week after a large scales engagement between pro-Assad and SDF troops forces in the region.
“The tank had been maneuvering with coordinated indirect fire on a defensive position occupied by Syrian Democratic Forces and coalition advisers,” said Col. Ryan S. Dillon. “The defensive position was within effective range of the hostile weapons systems. Coalition officials maintained regular contact with Russian counterparts via established deconfliction lines to avoid misperceptions and miscalculations that could endanger each other’s forces.”
Those remarks about maintaining communication with Russian officials through deconfliction lines echo similar statements made following last week’s attack. Although it has not yet been confirmed, multiple reports have indicated that the coalition advisors that were engaged by the tank along with the SDF were likely U.S. Special Operations troops, in Syria to provide training and support to American-backed forces. According to a statement from CENTCOM, the air strike was conducted by an MQ-9 Reaper Drone.
Defense Officials have not clarified what flag the men inside the tank fought under, though reports have indicated that they may have been Russian mercenaries, as numerous unconfirmed reports from Syria have indicated that a large number of Russian contractors have been fighting alongside Syrian forces in support of President Bashar al Assad. Because of Russia’s formal support for Assad’s regime, combined with a history of misrepresenting Russian troops as mercenaries when the Kremlin wants to avoid being implicated in military action, have led many to postulate that the troops killed or wounded in the assault across the Euphrates river last week, as well as the crew of the T-72 destroyed on Saturday, may indeed have been Russian, rather than militia fighters.
In footage released by the Department of Defense on Tuesday, the T-72 can be seen sitting stationary and appears to fire a round from its 125mm main gun just before being hit by the U.S. air strike that destroyed the vehicle. The image appears to be lost temporarily, first due to the heat flash from the tank’s gun, and then due to the impact of the air strike. According to reports, Coalition and SDF troops recovered three bodies from the tank. The T-72 traditionally requires a 3 man crew for operation.
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