MOSCOW: About 300 men working for a Kremlin-linked Russian private military firm were killed or injured by US-led coalition forces in Syria last week, sources told Reuters.
However, according to Russian officials, there was initial information about the death of five citizens but they had no relation to Russia’s armed forces.
The timing of the casualties coincided with a battle on Feb 7 near the Syrian city of Deir al-Zor where, according to US officials and associates of the fighters involved, the US-led coalition forces attacked forces aligned with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
A source who knows several of the fighters said the death toll was in excess of 80 men, while a Russian military doctor told Reuters that around 100 had been killed. The wounded evacuated from Syria in the past few days have been shifted to four Russian military hospitals, according to five sources familiar with the matter.
The doctor, who works in a Moscow military hospital, said more than 50 wounded men evacuated from Syria were under treatment at the hospital last Saturday. Around 15 of them were said to be in a serious condition. He claimed that three planeloads of injured fighters were flown to the city from Feb 9 to 12. They were flown back on military cargo planes which can each accommodate two or three intensive care cases.
Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry, said initial information was that five Russian citizens in the area of the battle had been killed, but they were not Russian troops. She said reports of tens or hundreds of Russian casualties were disinformation inspired by Russia’s opponents.
The Russian defence ministry did not respond to Reuters questions about casualties in Syria. A Kremlin spokesman, asked about casualties, said he no information on any casualties.