Fifteen Russian security staff killed in Syria explosion

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a meeting with his Italian counterpart in Moscow

A United States jet operating in Syria destroyed a Russian-made T-72 battle tank near Al Tabiyeh, Syria, on Saturday.

Those reports stemmed from anti-government fighters in Syria, who spread them accompanied by doctored images, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said at her weekly news conference. The pro-Assad forces were most likely trying to capture oilfields in the region that had been liberated from the Islamic State group in September 2017, the coalition had said last week.

Harrigian says officials are still assessing how many pro-regime forces were killed as a result but estimates it was approximately 100. US officials told CBS News there were Russian mercenaries present when the USA strikes hit forces allied to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, in order to repel their attack on a base of US -backed Syrian rebels. Several Russians died in Deir Ezzor that day, according to groups representing them.

The AC-130 gunship, one of the aircraft the USA says it used to return fire on Russian-backed attacking forces.

Russian news reports say at least several private Russian military contractors have been killed by a USA strike in Syria.

The latest US airstrike came less than a week after a massive strike killed 100 "pro-regime" forces, including what defense officials told Fox News were Russian contractors.

Two of the Russians told Bloomberg that more than 200 mercenaries, mostly Russian, were killed in the strike.

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Now, it turns out that Russian citizens were part of the attacking force, and a significant number became casualties of the United States counter-attack.

Western officials have said some Russian private contractors in Syria could be involved in attempting to secure oil assets on behalf of the Assad regime, particularly in energy-rich Deir al-Zor Province. However, the dynamic nature of the field of battle can not be disputed by either side where troops from countries with conflicting interests often bump into each other increasing the chances of the escalation of an all-out war with each other.

Moscow has released evidence showing that U.S. forces stationed in Dayr al-Zawr's border regions and in Jordan have been collaborating with Daesh and other militants through providing intelligence about Syrian and Russian forces. And US and Russian military officials maintain daily contact to avoid battlefield mishaps.

The attacks come days after pro-Assad forces attacked the Syrian Defense Forces in Deir el-Zour Province.

Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, commander of USA air forces in the Middle East, told reporters a broad range of US air power was unleashed.

In that incident, US special operations forces and allied Syrian fighters came under attack by a group of 500 Assad regime-backed fighters equipped with tanks, artillery and mortars.

"We recommend not treating media reports as primary sources", he added.

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In a second episode, the USA struck a Russian-made T-72 battle tank on Saturday after it "took a shot at us" in the same general area of Deir Ezzor province, Harrigian said, adding that he did not know who was operating the tank.

Former Defense Minister of the Donetsk People's Republic Igor Strelkov (Girkin), referring to his "reliable source", reported that all those killed under the shelling (about 100 people) were Russians, not the Syrian military, as the Defense Ministry stated.

Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, commenting on such reports, said only, "We have not received that word at Central Command or the Pentagon".

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in December that Moscow's military brief in the Syrian conflict has been largely completed and ordered a partial pullout of the country's troops. Macron reaffirmed that position on Tuesday, saying that nothing has changed.

"We are striving for consensus, and as soon as we can reach it, then we will do it", he said.

As yet, a handful of names of Russians killed in the one-sided battle have emerged.

The US and Russian militaries have de-confliction channels to prevent accidental clashes in Syria and alert each other to movements. Those claims could not be verified.

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