More Russian Body Counts

Interesting article form the Telegraph: Putin’s shock troops-how Russia’s secret mercenary army came up against the U.S. in Syria

That copy may be behind a paywall…so try this:

A few highlights:

  1. Russian newspapers (which still maintain some independence from the government) have listed the names of 9 Russian’s who died in Syria on 7 February.
    1. This clearly contradicts the foreign ministry claim that 5 were killed.
  2. This is again claimed to be a battalion-sized action (500 Russians)
  3. There are some interesting conspiracy theories offered in the article as to why this Russian unit was sent in to be slaughtered. I am hesitant to explain by conspiracy something that can be explained by incompetence. There is no shortage of incompetence in warfare (or any other human affairs).
  4. Supposedly 3,000 Russians have fought for the Wagner Group in Syria since 2015.
    1. Before 7 February, there were 73 deaths (official figure is 46).
  5. It has been busy. In the last two weeks an Al-Qaeda affiliated rebel group shot down a Russian jet, Kurdish fighters downed a Turkish helicopter, Israel downed an Iranian drone and the Syrian army shot down an Israeli F-16.

This was a direct confrontation between U.S. forces and Russian-paid contractors. During the Vietnam War, some Russians were killed in our bombing of North Vietnam and other operations (16 or more Russians killed). During the Korean War, Russians pilots, posing as North Koreans, engaged in aerial combat with the U.S. aircraft, along with providing AA (around 300 Russians killed total). But I suspect you have to go back to Russian Civil War (1917-1921) to find a major ground action between U.S. and Russian forces. Not sure any of them were of this size.

Related articles: These 5 Proxy Battles Are Making Syria’s Civil War Increasingly Complicated

Russian Body Counts

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Christopher A. Lawrence
Christopher A. Lawrence

Christopher A. Lawrence is a professional historian and military analyst. He is the Executive Director and President of The Dupuy Institute, an organization dedicated to scholarly research and objective analysis of historical data related to armed conflict and the resolution of armed conflict. The Dupuy Institute provides independent, historically-based analyses of lessons learned from modern military experience.
Mr. Lawrence was the program manager for the Ardennes Campaign Simulation Data Base, the Kursk Data Base, the Modern Insurgency Spread Sheets and for a number of other smaller combat data bases. He has participated in casualty estimation studies (including estimates for Bosnia and Iraq) and studies of air campaign modeling, enemy prisoner of war capture rates, medium weight armor, urban warfare, situational awareness, counterinsurgency and other subjects for the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, the Joint Staff and the U.S. Air Force. He has also directed a number of studies related to the military impact of banning antipersonnel mines for the Joint Staff, Los Alamos National Laboratories and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation.
His published works include papers and monographs for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation, in addition to over 40 articles written for limited-distribution newsletters and over 60 analytical reports prepared for the Defense Department. He is the author of Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka (Aberdeen Books, Sheridan, CO., 2015), America’s Modern Wars: Understanding Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam (Casemate Publishers, Philadelphia & Oxford, 2015), War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat (Potomac Books, Lincoln, NE., 2017) , The Battle of Prokhorovka (Stackpole Books, Guilford, CT., 2019), The Battle for Kyiv (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2023), Aces at Kursk (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024), Hunting Falcon: The Story of WWI German Ace Hans-Joachim Buddecke (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024) and The Siege of Mariupol (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2024).
Mr. Lawrence lives in northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C., with his wife and son.

Articles: 1516


  1. This is an oddly interesting story. Sustaining a [alleged] 60% casualty rate (300 of 500) in a single battalion-level engagement is quite a trick these days. A combination of incompetence and surprise would probably do the trick, but these numbers still seem unusually high.

    — According to the Reuters article referenced in the previous post, the Syrians and Russian mercenaries were purportedly deliberately probing for a U.S.-led coalition response. It seems they were not expecting the response they got, which explains the surprise, but still…

    — They were reportedly attacked by a combination of air strikes (coalition or just U.S.?) and U.S. Army rotary wing platforms. Even lacking air defense weapons, the Syrian/Russian forces must have been densely packed or impeded somehow to sustain that level of casualties. I read elsewhere that the U.S. did not target elements moving away from the engagement zone. I wonder what munitions were used? Perhaps they were also targeted by U.S. Marine artillery deployed in western Syria as well.

    Perhaps this was a deliberate demonstration of modern U.S. firepower along the lines of the Zelenopillya strike in the Ukraine in 2014. If so, message sent.

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