U.S. troops prevented a confrontation with Russian military in Syria similar to the one that resulted in the death of Russian mercenaries from a United States air strike in February. Secretary of Defense James Mattis stated this on Tuesday, March 27.
“Russian elements” moved along the line of demarcation to the east of the Euphrates River, to the territory where parties can conduct operations,” Mattis said. However, he said that they came too close to the positions of U.S. soldiers. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. Armed Forces, General Joseph Dunford, then contacted the chief of the Russian General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, in connection with the incident, after which the Russians retreated.
Mattis did not mention exactly when this happened, but on March 22 the Pentagon released a statement that Dunford and Gerasimov held talks about Syria and a number of other issues. Russian mercenaries moved around the area of Deir-ez-Zor in order to gather information about the combat positions of U.S. troops, reported AFP, citing its sources.
During an airstrike in Syria by the U.S.-led coalition on February 8, pro-government detachments trying to seize a local oil refinery were hit. It was reported that these detachments were comprised mainly of Russian mercenaries. Various estimates place the number of fatalities from the airstrike at a few dozen to perhaps a hundred. According to a group of independent investigators from the Conflict Intelligence Team, some of those killed were mercenaries of the PMC Wagner paramilitary organization.