The massive destruction of Syrian government forces through three hours of sustained bombardment by the United States Air Force – B52s, F-15s, MQ-9s, Ac-130s, AN-64 Apache helicopters – on the night of 7-8 February resulted in the deaths of at least a hundred Russian mercenaries, if not more (figures of 300 or more are being bandied about.) But no precise numbers have been given of the casualties inflicted on the Vagner company’s troops (V. Shiryaev, I. Murtazin, “Ne spasat’ ryadovykh Vagnera”, Novaya gazeta, 19 February 2018.)
This onslaught came as the predictable response to an “unprovoked, coordinated attack against established SDF [Syrian oppositional] positions”, said the Commander of US Air Forces Central Command headquartered in Qatar, Lt. General Jeffrey Harrigian. The build-up of Syrian Government forces eight miles east of the Euphrates threatened the SDF positions well established on the western bank. In accordance with agreed procedure, the Americans had warned via the especially established telecommunications links (the “deconfliction line”) that any attack from this quarter would result in the certain destruction of the advancing troops. The Russian military authorities were given further warning when these troops ignored these warnings on 7 February and moved against established opposition positions using mortar, multiple-launched rocket systems, tanks and artillery.
The question is whether the Russian General Staff passed these crucial warnings onto the mercenaries. That has not been answered; and, if not, why not? Furthermore Russian radio-electronic intelligence monitors all air movements in the region as it does elsewhere over the globe; so when US forces took off on their bombing mission, local Russian air bases in Syria as well as the General Staff in Moscow would know they were about to attack. Yet again, nothing was done to impede it. So was the General Staff just resistant to helping Wagner company or was it instructed by the Kremlin to down tools?
Moscow’s reaction to this mess, as admitted by the press, is one of “embarrassment”. That is a big understatement. The silence is deafening (V. Mukhin, “Rossiya teryaet kontrol’ nad severovostokom Sirii”, Nezavisimaya gazeta, 19 February 2018.)