Citing the publication Tasnim, the Iranian news agency Fars has reported that three militants affiliated with the group Hezbollah, as well as several militiamen and ‘several Russian military advisers’, were killed on Wednesday as a result of a strike by the coalition forces against supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad the vicinity of the Hasham gas field in Deir ez-Zor province.
The report discusses the attack by Assad supporters, whom the Pentagon earlier claimed approached the zone of delimitation near the Euphrates River on February 7 and fired, using high-caliber weapons, toward the positions of Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that were operating with support from the American coalition. As the US Department of Defense pointed out, Assad supporters were hit back by the coalition’s aviation and artillery forces.
The television channel CBS, citing a representative of the Pentagon, said that "Russian mercenaries" were among those who attacked the SDF positions on Wednesday. The Department of Defense does not exclude that they may have been impacted by the coalition’s return fire.
The Pentagon has indicated that the headquarters of the SDF was located in the area of attack by Assad’s supporters, and that American military advisers were present in the building at the time. However, the Department of Defense also expressed doubts that the attackers, including the mercenaries, had set themselves up for the task of seizing the headquarters and capturing the Americans present. Rather, Washington believes that the main purpose of the attack was to seize the gas field.
The day prior, Secretary of Defense James Mattis said that he does not believe that Russians were among the casualties in Deir ez-Zor. According to Mattis, the coalition is still trying to find out who exactly attacked the SDF positions, but at the same time noted that he does not understand "why the Russians would need [to do so]".
The evening prior, the Department of Defense released its own version of what happened in Deir-ez-Zor. It pointed out that the militiamen, without agreement with the Russian command, conducted an intelligence operations, trying to establish the positions of a "sleeping" cell of the Islamic State (a terrorist organization banned in Russia), but eventually came under fire from the coalition. The Russian military department said that 24 people were injured as a result of the wound, but no one was killed. The Department of Defense argues that the US informed the Russian command on the basis of Khmeimim after the attack. Later in the Pentagon said that they reported their plans before, during and after the shelling.
Meanwhile, the publication AMN, which specializes in news from the Middle East, claims that the situation in Deir ez-Zor remains extremely unstable. According to the publication, on February 9, detachments of the SDF in the vicinity of the Hashim and Tabiya settlements have launched an attack on the positions of government forces. Both of these settlements are on the eastern bank of the Euphrates, which is mostly controlled by detachments affiliated with the US-led coalition.