A US-led coalition drone has destroyed a Russian-designed tank in eastern Syria close to the scene of last week’s attack on pro-regime forces that left more than 100 Damascus loyalists dead, officials said Tuesday.
The strike on the T-72 tank occurred Saturday near Al Tabiyeh, in Deir Ezzor province, the Pentagon said in a statement.
“We detected and saw a tank that took a shot at us,” Lieutenant General Jeffrey Harrigian, who heads up Air Force operations for the region, told Pentagon reporters.
“It continued to move, so we… executed self-defense rules of engagement to protect ourselves.”
For the most part, the US-led coalition has managed to skirt the edges of Syria’s civil war by staying focused on the Islamic State group.
But occasional attacks on pro-regime forces, which the US says are conducted in self defense, raise the risks of it being sucked into a broader conflict.
Harrigian was careful to avoid speculating who was inside the tank, though the T-72 is widely used by the Syrian army.
The incident came three days after the US-led coalition killed more than 100 forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after shelling and using tanks to fire at the SDF and coalition advisors.
Several Russians died in Deir Ezzor that day, according to groups representing them.
Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesman, said the coalition had spoken with Russia via a special hotline prior to the strike “to avoid misperceptions and miscalculations that could endanger each other’s forces.”
At the time of the February 7 attack, the Russian defense ministry said “there are no Russian servicemen in Deir-Ezzor.”
However, many Russian citizens are fighting in Syria as mercenaries working for a private military company called Wagner, according to numerous reports.