A firefight pitting Syrian government troops and their Russian military advisers against Islamic State militants has left at least four Russians dead and several wounded, the Defense Ministry in Moscow said on Sunday as quoted by The New York Times. The firefight occurred in the Deir al-Zour governorate, an oil-rich area of eastern Syria, after several mobile units of the Islamic State attacked a Syrian Army artillery battery, the Russian news agency Interfax quoted the ministry as saying in a statement.
The fighting lasted about an hour, resulting in the deaths of 43 Islamic State fighters and in the destruction of six all-terrain vehicles, the report said. Two Russians who had been helping to direct Syrian artillery fire were killed during the fighting, the report added, and two others died later as a result of wounds sustained during the battle.
A statement circulated on the Telegram messaging app by accounts affiliated with the Islamic State said that the attack occurred overnight Wednesday near the town of Mayadeen, and that it had killed 15 men fighting on behalf of the Syrian government, including an unspecified number of Russians. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group based in Britain that monitors the war through contacts on the ground, put the Russian death toll at nine.
“There were 35 pro-government forces killed, including at least nine Russians. Some of those Russian nationals were government troops, but not all of them. The remaining 26 were all Syrian forces,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
The organization said two clashes in the area over the past five days had left 76 dead on the Syrian government side, including non-Syrians.
The Russian ministry said the dead were military advisers attached to a Syrian army unit in the Deir ez-Zor, The Guardian adds. It said in a statement reported by Russian news agencies:
“Several groups of terrorists attacked an artillery battery of the Syrian government forces at night in the Syrian province of Deir ez-Zor. Two Russian military advisers, who directed the fire of the Syrian artillery, were killed on the spot. Five more servicemen were injured and were taken to the hospital immediately, two of whom died in a Russian military hospital, and 43 insurgents were killed in the nighttime battle” the ministry said.
The Russian statement came two days after Isis said its fighters launched a surprise attack on Wednesday from two axes on a joint Syrian/Russian convoy west of the town of al-Mayadeen, killing 15 Syrian and Russian soldiers. Isis claimed its militants destroyed five army trucks and armoured vehicles and damaged a rocket-launcher. It was not immediately clear if Isis was speaking about the same area where the Russian advisers were killed.
According to the statement, the Syrian Armed Forces, with the assistance from Russian military advisers, took up the battle that began after the attack. During the battle with the terrorists, which lasted for about one hour, the servicemen eliminated 43 terrorists and six all-terrain vehicles with carrying large caliber weapons. Russia has provided crucial military support to president Bashar al-Assad’s forces, helping them to roll back mainstream rebels and Isis. Russia and both refer to the armed opposition as “terrorists”.
On September 30, 2015, Russia launched an air campaign initiating airstrikes against terrorist targets in Syria at the request of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Sputnik says. In March 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to withdraw most of the Russian air group following the successful accomplishment of the tasks (i.e. fight against terrorists).
On December 11, 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria; however, a permanent group of the Russian military remains at the military bases at Hmeymim and Tartus on the territory of the Arab Republic.