US destroys Russian tank in Syria, reportedly killing three

US destroys Russian tank in Syria, reportedly killing three
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A U.S. drone, acting in self-defense, destroyed a Russian-made T-72 tank in eastern Syria over the weekend, the head of U.S. Air Forces Central Command told reporters Tuesday.

News reports indicate that three people inside the tank were killed.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian said U.S. forces for several hours used drones and B-52 bombers to strike fighters after they came under fire from the tank.  

“We detected and saw a tank that took a shot at us,” Harrigian said via teleconference from Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar.

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“It continued to move, so we again executed self-defense rules of engagement to protect ourselves. And I believe, again, that’s something we always have the right to do and will make sure we’re in a position to do,” Harrigian added.

Fox News reported Tuesday that it was a U.S.-made MQ-9 Reaper drone that destroyed the Russian tank, and that three people inside the vehicle were killed.

Harrigian refused to say if those inside the tank were Russians.

“I don’t know who was driving it. … I’m not just going to speculate on that,” he said.

The strike is the second by U.S. forces against fighters loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad since last week.

U.S. forces on Wednesday killed “scores” of Russians in a strike east of the Euphrates River in Deir ez-Zour province, according to multiple reports.

U.S. officials have said in that attack, 100 mercenaries, including Russians, were killed after they started what the U.S. military described as an “unprovoked” attack on the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

“This was self-defense,” Harrigian said. “This is a hostile force launching an unprovoked, coordinated attack … against an established SDF position.”

Harrigian defended the Feb. 7 airstrike, but declined several times to specify the composition of the group killed.

“It’s not as simple ... to sort out exactly who everyone is down there, and we need to allow that to work its way through,” he said.

He added that the U.S.-backed coalition contacted the Russians through the deconfliction line ahead of the attack.

Pro-Assad forces and U.S.-backed forces have been converging in the Middle Euphrates River Valley, seeking the last remaining pockets of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters.

“We are focused on a singular enemy: ISIS,” Harrigian said. “We are not looking for a fight with anyone else. But as [Defense] Secretary [James] Mattis said last week, ‘If you threaten us, it will be your longest and worst day.’”