Assistant US Secretary of State A. Wess Mitchell has said that Russian mercenaries are operating in Syria. Speaking on Wednesday at a House Foreign Affairs Committee meeting on the topic of "US Policy in the Troubled Middle East," he stressed that Moscow “professes a wish to defeat ISIS but directs its bombs at fighters and even civilians who oppose the regime [of Bashar al-Assad].”
He said that the Kremlin's actions could lead to further escalation of the conflict, threatening direct military confrontation in the United States.
"[Russia’s] reckless intervention in Syria and support for the Assad regime has raised the risk of confrontation with the West," Mitchell said. "The failed attack on U.S. forces by Russian mercenaries recently in Syria was one sobering example of this behavior."
Information was released on February 7 about an attempted attack on the headquarters of the Syrian Democratic Forces near the city of Deir-ez-Zor. According to various reports, up to two hundred assailants were killed as a result of the retaliatory attack, in which American forces participated. Later on, the media found evidence that citizens of the Russian Federation who signed contracts for service in the so-called Private military contractor (PMC) Wagner were among the casualties.
While answering Senate questions in the upper house of Congress last week, CIA director Mike Pompeo said that several "hundred" citizens of the Russian Federation were killed in one of the clashes in Syria.
The Russian authorities initially denied the death of Russians in the region, but then reported that the injured Russian citizens were not in military service but rather in Syria "on their own initiative."
Speaking in Congress, A. Wess Mitchell stressed that the US still expects to resolve the conflict in Syria through diplomatic means.
"We are pushing Russia to be a constructive participant in this process and to bring Assad to the negotiating table," said the US Assistant Secretary of State. “So far, Russia has ignored these calls and instead been a spoiler to Geneva."