'Mad development': U.S. reportedly wiped out scores of Russian fighters in Syria

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The Pentagon says it is in constant contact with Russian forces on the ground as part of an existing de-confliction agreement that had been agreed between Washington and Moscow. "I'm not willing to say that the Russians have lost influence or gained influence".

It is unclear who was paying the Russian mercenary group, with reports in Russia signaling that Wagner-the Russian equivalent to the US' Blackwater-was hired by Assad or his allies.

Syrian state news agency SANA described the action as an "aggression" by the coalition against "popular forces" who were fighting ISIS and the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

It said the USA strikes, which reportedly killed about 100 of the attackers, were in self-defence.

Asked about whether there were any Russian mercenary deaths at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on February 13, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said, without elaborating: "From an intelligence perspective, we have seen in multiple instances foreign forces using mercenaries in battles that will begin to approach the United States".

The Russian Defense Ministry later said that the Syrian militia came under attack while conducting a reconnaissance operation that was not coordinated with the Russian side, estimating there were 25 casualties resulting from the US-coalition airstrikes.

"Syria is a land of unlimited riches", Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who led the delegation, said at the time. We can only operate data on the servicemen of Russian Armed Forces, who take part in the operation of the Russian Airspace forces supporting the Syrian Army.

The U.S. -led coalition said it thwarted an "unprovoked attack" by pro-government fighters on a Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) headquarters in Deir Ezzor province after midnight Wednesday. Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, commander of USA air forces in the Middle East, told reporters a broad range of US air power was unleashed. "We have not received that word at Central Command or at the Pentagon", he told a media briefing on Tuesday.

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Associates of Russian military contractors fighting alongside government forces in Syria have said there were large-scale casualties among the contractors when US -led coalition forces clashed with pro-government forces in Syria's Deir al-Zor province on February 7. It said it was in regular communication with Russian counterparts before, during and after the attack, and Russian officials assured coalition officials they would not strike coalition forces.

He said: "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".

Mevlut Cavusoglu also told reporters in Istanbul that ties between Turkey and the US are at a "very critical stage", the Associated Press said.

President Trump has said that Russia constitutes one of its top national security threats, but has also cultivated a cozy relationship with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

Most of Syria is held by forces loyal to its president, Bashar al-Assad.

Some media reports suggest that dozens of Russian fighters could have been killed.

While the USA has used private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan for years, Russian law forbids the hiring of mercenaries or working as one even though Russia has used proxies in eastern Ukraine, where it has backed pro-Moscow separatists since 2014.

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