The Russians never expected that the US forces would call in air strikes and wipe out the 300 odd attackers trying to smoke the SDF/Special Operations base.
by Stephen Bryen
In 2014 in Crimea two Ilyushin 76 transport aircraft and scores of helicopters landed troops in Crimea. On board were soldiers in green uniforms with no markings. They came to be called “Little Green Men,” by the locals, and the name stuck. These soldiers were there to invite the Ukrainian military to leave, which they did. There was no shooting, and while the Little Green Men stayed on patrol, they did not interfere with normal life in Crimea, which subsequently was annexed by Russia (violating international agreements and even understandings between Ukraine and Russia).
Russia did not, and never have acknowledged that the Little Green Men, also sometimes called the Polite Men in Crimea, belonged to the Russian state.
The equipment carried by each Green Man soldier demonstrated they were equipped with the latest generation of Russian materials including
- New EMR camouflage combat uniforms
- New 6Sh112 or 6Sh117 tactical vests
- New 6B27, 6B7-1M composite helmets
- New 7.62 mm PKP machine guns
- 6B26 composite helmets (used only by airborne troops of the Russian Federation)
- 6Sh92-5 tactical vests (used only by airborne troops of the Russian Federation)
- Gorka-3 combat uniforms (used only by Russian special forces and mountain troops)
- Smersh AK/VOG tactical vests (used only by Russian special forces)
The Russians have Special Forces (like the United States) who sometimes operate in unmarked uniforms, and they have “outside” military groups that are claimed to be private organizations, the most famous of which is known as Wagner.
Both the Wagner Forces and Russia’s Special Forces (in plain uniforms) have been active in Ukraine’s Donbass region supporting (if that is the right word) the separatists in eastern Ukraine. Thought of another way, the Separatists in Ukraine are in fact the creation of Russia and Russian troops (in unmarked uniform) and Russian military equipment (even the infamous BUK air defense system).
Russian Special Forces also have been active in Syria where they played a significant role in suppressing ISIS in Palmyra (along with Russian air power).
But Russia is also supplying so-called mercenaries, for hire troops also in plain uniforms and also supported entirely by the Russian army. This is where Wagner comes in.
Among the “irregulars” fighting in Syria, Wagner-supplied forces were operational against the US-Kurdish base at Deir ez-Zor. The other “irregulars” are mercenaries brought to Syria by Iran and run by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Quds Division. Among them the Fatemiyon division which consists of some 20,000 men, primarily Sh’ia Afghans living in Iran, others from Iraq and Pakistan. In the shoot out at Deir ez-Zor, the Russians probably lost between 20 and 30 Wagner men although the latest claims put the loss at 80 to 100 killed and many more wounded; the others killed were probably Iranian Afghans, and the number dead is between 100 to 200.
In any analysis of the Syrian situation it is important to emphasize that Russian-origin forces, whether in marked or unmarked uniforms, whether Special Forces or from Wagner are in fact Russian forces under Russia’s control.
The Pentagon is claiming that Russia lacks influence over Syrian forces including those that attacked Deir ez-Zor. Factually this is very suspect. While it may be partly true –the US tried to get the Russians through the so-called deconfliction hotline to get the attack called off, the fact of the matter is that the Russians do control their forces in Syria including Wagner and could have pulled them out.
Different conclusions therefore can be reached about that episode, and yet another one a few days later when a US drone firing a hellfire missile took out a T-72 tank allegedly in the hands of the irregulars.
One conclusion is what the Pentagon says it is: that Russia is not controlling Syria, or better yet that Russia is not controlling the Iranians in Syria.
The other conclusion is that the Deir ez-Zor operation was an attempt to kick the US out of Syria, using irregular mercenary forces and Wagnerites, giving the Russians plausible deniability over the operation. In that light, the Pentagon’s effort to convince the Russians not to do what they were doing was unproductive because the Russians only needed to say they were not doing anything.
So what is the bottom line? The most obvious and probably the real one is that the Russians saw a cheap chance to chase the United States out of Syria by trapping a couple of thousand US Special Forces troops. Probably the Russians never expected that the US forces would call in air strikes and wipe out the 300 odd attackers trying to smoke the SDF/Special Operations base. This has to be a huge miscalculation on the part of the Russians and they have paid a price. Twitter is starting to report the names of the Russians killed in the attack, and the twittering is in the Russian language which means everyone in Russia knows. Putin has a black eye and he deserves it.