There are increasing reports that Russian military contractors were among those killed when a U.S.-led coalition airstrike wiped out an attack by pro-regime Syrian forces loyal to President Assad.

About 500 Syrian and Russian forces attacked a coalition base where U.S. Special Operations troops were advising a Kurdish unit. At least a 100 of the attackers and possibly as many as 300 were killed. And Russian media sources are reporting that scores of them were Russian contractors.

“We detected and saw a tank that took a shot at us,” Lieutenant General Jeffrey Harrigian, the head of U.S. Air Forces Central Command told reporters said via teleconference from Qatar.

“It continued to move, so we… executed self-defense rules of engagement to protect ourselves.”

Without mentioning the U.S. strike, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Tuesday “Americans have taken dangerous unilateral steps.”

“Those steps look increasingly like part of efforts to create a quasi-state on a large part of Syrian territory — from the eastern bank of the Euphrates River all the way to the border with Iraq,” he said.

The attack comes just days after U.S. forces for several hours used drones and B-52 bombers against several hundred “pro-regime” fighters equipped with artillery and a tank in Deir el-Zour province, an area in eastern Syria where the last IS fighters have converged among oil fields.

Russian media have been reporting that dozens of Russians were among those killed when the U.S.-led coalition conducted air and artillery strikes on Feb. 7, killing an estimated 100 pro-regime fighters, according to a coalition statement.

The attack on the coalition base where U.S. troops were advising an SDF unit was supported by 122mm howitzers, tanks, and rocket launchers 5-miles east of the Euphrates River. The river has been used as a buffer zone between U.S. and Russian troops.  The Russian troops reportedly manned T-55 and T-72 tanks and were firing rounds close to the base which is nearby the rich oilfields that the regime wants.

The U.S. responded with devastating air strikes consisting of AQ-9 drone attacks, B-52 bombers, AC-130 gunships, F-15s, F-22s, Army Apache helicopter gunships and Marine Corps artillery.

Despite what the Russians are saying officially, this provocation is a sign that they were trying to escalate the tensions there without official Russian troops there. They were attempting to take advantage of a situation where they can’t be “officially tied” to it, but there is no way that an attack of that size without the knowledge and approval of their leaders.

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