Russian mercenaries vs US troops: How a 4-hour conflict unfolded in Syria

WASHINGTON: The artillery fusillade was so heated that a US commandos dived into foxholes for protection, rising lonesome in drifting mud and waste to glow behind during a mainstay of tanks advancing underneath a complicated shelling. It was a opening storm in a scarcely four-hour brawl in Feb by around 500 pro-Syrian supervision army — including Russian mercenaries — that threatened to irritate already simmering tensions between Washington and Moscow.

In a end, 200 to 300 of a assertive fighters were killed. The others retreated underneath bloody airstrikes from a United States, returning after to collect their terrain dead. None of a Americans during a tiny outpost in eastern Syria — about 40 by a finish of a firefight — were harmed.

The sum of a Feb 7 firefight were gleaned from interviews and papers newly performed by The New York Times. They yield a Pentagon’s initial open on-the-ground accounting of one of a singular bloodiest battles a US battalion has faced in Syria given deploying to quarrel a Islamic State.

The firefight was described by a Pentagon as an act of self-defense conflicting a section of pro-Syrian supervision forces. In interviews, US battalion officials pronounced they had watched — with dismay — hundreds of coming opposition troops, vehicles and artillery pieces in a week heading adult to a attack.

The awaiting of Russian battalion army and US battalion colliding has prolonged been feared as a Cold War adversaries take hostile sides in Syria’s seven-year polite war.

At worst, officials and experts have said, it could thrust both countries into bloody conflict. And during a minimum, squaring off in swarming battlefields has combined to heightened tensions between Russia and a United States as they any find to strive change in a Middle East.

Commanders of a opposition militaries had prolonged destined transparent of a other by vocalization by often-used deconfliction write lines. In a days heading adult to a attack, and on conflicting sides of a Euphrates River, Russia and a United States were subsidy apart offensives conflicting a Islamic State in Syria’s oil-rich Deir el-Zour province, that borders Iraq.

US battalion officials regularly warned about a flourishing mass of troops. But Russian battalion officials pronounced they had no control over a fighters convention nearby a stream — even yet US notice apparatus monitoring radio transmissions had suggested a belligerent force was vocalization in Russian.

The papers described a fighters as a “pro-regime force,” constant to President Bashar Assad of Syria. It enclosed some Syrian supervision soldiers and militias, though US battalion and comprehension officials have pronounced a infancy were private Russian paramilitary mercenaries — and many expected a partial of a Wagner Group, a association mostly used by a Kremlin to lift out objectives that officials do not wish to be connected to a Russian government.

“The Russian high authority in Syria positive us it was not their people,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told senators in testimony final month. He pronounced he destined Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., authority of a Joint Chiefs of Staff, “for a force, then, to be annihilated.”

“And it was.”

Amassing forces

The day began with tiny spirit of a conflict that was about to unfold.

A organisation of about 30 Delta Force soldiers and Rangers from a Joint Special Operations Command were operative alongside Kurdish and Arab army during a tiny dry outpost subsequent to a Conoco gas plant, nearby a city of Deir el-Zour.

Roughly 20 miles away, during a bottom famous as a goal support site, a organisation of Green Berets and a crew of battalion Marines stared during their mechanism screens, examination worker feeds and flitting information to a Americans during a gas plant about a entertainment fighters.

At 3 pm a Syrian force began circumference toward a Conoco plant. By early evening, some-more than 500 battalion and 27 vehicles — including tanks and armored crew carriers — had amassed.

In a US atmosphere operations core during Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, and during a Pentagon, astonished battalion officers and comprehension analysts watched a stage unfold. Commanders briefed pilots and belligerent crews. Aircraft opposite a segment were placed on alert, battalion officials said.

Back during a goal support site, a Green Berets and Marines were scheming a tiny greeting force — roughly 16 battalion in 4 mine-resistant vehicles — in box they were indispensable during a Conoco plant. They legalised their weapons and ensured a trucks were installed with anti-tank missiles, thermal optics and food and water.

At 8:30 pm, 3 Russian-made T-72 tanks — vehicles weighing scarcely 50 tons and armed with 125-millimeter guns — changed within a mile of a Conoco plant. Bracing for an attack, a Green Berets prepared to launch a greeting force.

At a outpost, US soldiers watched a mainstay of tanks and other armored vehicles spin and expostulate toward them around 10 pm, rising from a area of houses where they had attempted to accumulate undetected.

A half-hour later, a Russian mercenaries and Syrian army struck.

The Conoco outpost was strike with a reduction of tank fire, vast artillery and trebuchet rounds, a papers show. The atmosphere was filled with mud and shrapnel. The US commandos took cover, afterwards ran behind mud berms to glow anti-tank missiles and appurtenance guns during a advancing mainstay of armored vehicles.

For a initial 15 minutes, US battalion officials called their Russian counterparts and urged them to stop a attack. When that failed, US battalion dismissed warning shots during a organisation of vehicles and a howitzer.

Still a battalion advanced.

From a horizon, a fusillade of artillery

US warplanes arrived in waves, including Reaper drones, F-22 secrecy warrior jets, F-15E Strike Fighters, B-52 bombers, AC-130 gunships and AH-64 Apache helicopters. For a subsequent 3 hours, US officials said, scores of strikes pummeled rivalry troops, tanks and other vehicles. Marine rocket artillery was dismissed from a ground.

The greeting organisation sped toward a fight. It was dark, according to a documents, and a roads were dirty with felled energy lines and bombard craters. The 20-mile expostulate was done all a some-more formidable given a trucks did not spin on their headlights, relying usually on thermal-imaging cameras to navigate.

As a Green Berets and Marines neared a Conoco plant around 11:30 pm, they were forced to stop. The fusillade of artillery was too dangerous to expostulate by until airstrikes silenced a enemy’s howitzers and tanks.

At a plant, a commandos were pinned down by rivalry artillery and blazing by ammunition. Flashes from tank muzzles, anti-aircraft weapons and appurtenance guns illuminated adult a air.

At 1 am, with a artillery glow dwindling, a organisation of Marines and Green Berets pulled adult to a Conoco outpost and began firing. By then, some of a US warplanes had returned to base, low on possibly fuel or ammunition.

The US battalion on a ground, now roughly 40 in all, braced their defenses as a mercenaries left their vehicles and headed toward a outpost on foot.

A handful of Marines ran ammunition to appurtenance guns and Javelin barb launchers sparse along a berms and wedged among a trucks. Some of a Green Berets and Marines took aim from unprotected hatches. Others remained in their trucks, regulating a multiple of thermal screens and joysticks to control and glow a complicated appurtenance guns merged on their roofs.

A few of a commandos, including Air Force quarrel controllers, worked a radios to approach a subsequent swift of bombers drifting toward a battlefield. At slightest one Marine unprotected himself to incoming glow as he used a barb superintendence mechanism to find targets’ locations and pass them on to a commandos job in a airstrikes.

An hour later, a rivalry fighters had started to shelter and a US battalion stopped firing. From their outpost, a commandos watched a mercenaries and Syrian fighters lapse to collect their dead. The tiny organisation of US battalion was not harmed. One associated Syrian warrior was wounded.

Who led a luckless attack?

The series of casualties from a Feb 7 quarrel is in dispute.

Initially, Russian officials pronounced usually 4 Russian adults — though maybe dozens some-more — were killed; a Syrian officer pronounced around 100 Syrian soldiers had died. The papers performed by The Times estimated 200 to 300 of a “pro-regime force” were killed.

The outcome of a battle, and many of a mechanics, advise that a Russian mercenaries and their Syrian allies were in a wrong partial of a universe to try a simple, massed brawl on a US battalion position. Since a 2003 advance of Iraq, a US Central Command has polished a volume of equipment, logistics, coordination and strategy compulsory to brew weapons dismissed from both a atmosphere and ground.

Questions sojourn about accurately who a Russian mercenaries were, and because they attacked.

US comprehension officials contend that a Wagner Group, famous by a nickname of a late Russian officer who leads it, is in Syria to seize oil and gas fields and strengthen them on interest of a Assad government. The mercenaries acquire of a share of a prolongation deduction from a oil fields they reclaim, officials said.

The mercenaries loosely coordinate with a Russian battalion in Syria, nonetheless Wagner’s leaders have reportedly perceived awards in a Kremlin, and a mercenaries are lerned during a Russian Defense Ministry’s bases.

Russian supervision army in Syria say they were not concerned in a battle. But in new weeks, according to US battalion officials, they have tangled a communications of smaller US drones and gunships such as a form used in a attack.

“Right now in Syria, we’re in a many assertive EW sourroundings on a world from the adversaries,” Gen. Tony Thomas, conduct of US Special Operations Command, pronounced recently, referring to electronic warfare. “They’re contrast us each day.”

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