It was inevitable. Russian “mercenaries” attacked a forward base in Syria where they knew American advisors were stationed. It was a test. And our military passed. Let’s hope the administration passes, too. The most important thing about this attack on our troops is that it couldn’t have happened without Vladimir Putin ’s personal approval. Nye vozmozhno.
The core of the attacking force came from the Wagner Group, Russia’s version of the American thugs who worked for the company formerly known as Blackwater. But while the media refers to the Russians as mercenaries, the Wagner Group functions as an auxiliary of the Russian military — it previously gave command performances in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. It exists to give Moscow (barely) plausible deniability.
It also allows the Kremlin to avoid reporting formal military casualties. Putin remembers the popular disaffection in the 1980s because of the “zinky boys,” the young Russian soldiers returning home in zinc coffins in large numbers.
But the bottom line is that these killers — primarily ethnic Russians, but also recruited regionally — work for Putin. Russian suggestions that this was a rogue operation are ludicrous: An armored task force including hundreds of Russian citizens doesn’t attack US troops and blindside Putin. Doesn’t work that way, comrade.
And somewhere between several dozen and 200 of these Kremlin auxiliaries were killed, with hundreds more of the attackers wounded. We may never know the precise number, but the interesting point is that the higher casualty figures come from unofficial Russian sources.
What happened? Last week, a Russian-directed task force with tanks and artillery crossed the agreed deconfliction line separating Assad’s turf and that liberated by the Syrian Democratic Forces — our guys. The Russians knew our advisors were there because we told them. After about 5 miles, the Russians, thinly cloaked as regime forces, attacked.