US jet de­stroys Putin tank in Syria

Mas­sive raids ‘kill hun­dreds of fighters, dozens of Rus­sian merce­nar­ies se­cretly fight­ing there’

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A US fighter jet has de­stroyed a Rus­sian tank in Syria – af­ter it emerged that hun­dreds of Rus­sian merce­nar­ies are se­cretly fight­ing in the coun­try.

The US jet de­stroyed a Rus­sian-made T-72 tank dur­ing a bomb­ing raid de­signed to pro­tect rebel fighters in Syria on Satur­day, re­port­edly killing hun­dreds of Rus­sian merce­nar­ies.

If that proves true, it would be the big­gest clash be­tween Amer­i­can and Rus­sian forces since the end of the Cold War – and rep­re­sent an es­ca­la­tion of ten­sions be­tween the world’s two most pow­er­ful armed forces who are en­gaged in a war by proxy in Syria.

The tank was tar­geted near al-Tabiyeh in a bid to stop it fir­ing to­wards a po­si­tion held by Amer­i­can forces and their Syr­ian al­lies, a Pen­ta­gon spokesman said.

It hap­pened days af­ter the US mil­i­tary said its anti-ji­hadist coali­tion had car­ried out strikes in “self-de­fence” against forces loyal to Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad in the same re­gion, leav­ing an es­ti­mated more than 100 pro-regime per­son­nel dead.

The tank had been “ma­neu­ver­ing with co­or­di­nated in­di­rect fire” on a po­si­tion held by Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces — a US backed rebel move­ment that has been bat­tling ISIS.

While Amer­ica has been train­ing and equip­ping SDF rebels dur­ing the bru­tal civil war in Syria, Rus­sia has been back­ing forces loyal to dic­ta­tor Bashar al-As­sad op­er­at­ing nearby.

US Marine Corps ma­jor Adrian JT Rank­ine-Gal­loway said the SDF’s ‘po­si­tion was within ef­fec­tive range of the hos­tile weapons sys­tems”.

There was no death or in­jury among the SDF or coali­tion units fol­low­ing the tank at­tack, he added. The T-72 is a Soviet bat­tle tank that en­tered pro­duc­tion in 1971. About 20,000 were built with many ex­ported and en­ter­ing ser­vice in 40 coun­tries and in nu­mer­ous con­flicts around the world.

On Fe­bru­ary 7, US Cen­tral Com­mand said the coali­tion had car­ried out strikes to counter an “un­pro­voked at­tack against well-es­tab­lished SDF head­quar­ters”. “We es­ti­mate more than 100 Syr­ian proregime forces were killed while en­gag­ing SDF and coali­tion forces,” while one SDF mem­ber was wounded, a US mil­i­tary of­fi­cial said.

Ac­cord­ing to CENTCOM, “coali­tion ser­vice mem­bers in an ad­vise, as­sist, and ac­com­pany ca­pac­ity were co-lo­cated with SDF part­ners dur­ing the at­tack”. “The coali­tion con­ducted strikes against at­tack­ing forces to re­pel the act of ag­gres­sion,” it said.

The US mil­i­tary of­fi­cial said the at­tack — which be­gan on Wed­nes­day — in­volved some 500 per­son­nel from “proregime” forces armed with tanks, ar­tillery and mor­tars.

The SDF and the coali­tion tar­geted the at­tack­ing forces with air and ar­tillery strikes af­ter “20 to 30 ar­tillery and tank rounds landed within 500 me­ters of the SDF head­quar­ters lo­ca­tion”, the of­fi­cial said. The of­fi­cial did not specif­i­cally iden­tify the at­tack­ing forces, which could have been Syr­ian or from one of a num­ber of al­lied mili­tia units, in­clud­ing from Iraq and Le­banon, that are back­ing As­sad in the civil war.

Rus­sia is car­ry­ing out strikes in sup­port of As­sad, who has re­ceived sub­stan­tial sup­port from Iran as well. CENTCOM said the at­tack oc­curred eight kilo­me­tres east of the Euphrates River de-con­flic­tion line, re­fer­ring to a bound­ary agreed to by Rus­sia and the US, with the for­mer's area of op­er­a­tions to the west of the river and the lat­ter's to its east.

Tank was de­signed to pro­tect rebel fighters

PHO­TOS: AGEN­CIES

(Above) Mem­bers of the Syr­ian Demo­cratic Force which is backed by the US; (left) a top shot of the T-72 tank mo­ments be­fore it was hit.

Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

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