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Palmyra Was a Russian Bloodbath, According to Reuters

Reuters reads a blog, then confirms that 10 private contractors were killed in Palmyra

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

"Military casualties abroad are not as politically sensitive in Russia as in some other countries," writes Reuters, because everyone knows that Russians don't value human life.

So begins a great masterpiece of investigative journalism.

<figcaption>Reuters strikes again</figcaption>
Reuters strikes again

The truth is painful:

Russia's force in Syria has suffered losses since late January more than three times higher than the official toll, according to evidence gathered by Reuters, a tally that shows the fight in Syria is tougher and more costly than the Kremlin has disclosed.

Three times higher? And all Russian military? That sounds terrible. This is scandalous. Even criminal. Reuters then gives us some hard data:

Eighteen Russian citizens fighting alongside Moscow's allies, the Syrian government forces, have been killed since Jan. 29 -- a period that coincided with intense fighting to recapture the city of Palmyra from the Islamic State group.

The Russian defense ministry has publicly reported only five servicemen's deaths in Syria over the same period, and its officials' statements have not mentioned any large-scale Russian ground operations in the fight for Palmyra.

Eighteen Russian...citizens? So now we're not even talking about soldiers? So who exactly died (according to Reuters, citing a blog)?

Most of the dead were not regular Russian soldiers but Russian civilians working as private military contractors under the orders of Russian commanders. Moscow has not officially acknowledged the presence of the contractors in Syria.

Contractors. So what exactly is the story here? That the Russian government didn't announce the deaths of private contractors? Not to sound vulgar, but 10 dead contractors is small potatoes compared to the death tolls in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

According to Brown University, approximately 3,500 American contractors (and 7,000 contractors in total)  have died in Iraq alone — and you probably read about maybe 20 of those deaths: 

Thousands of private contractors have also died in the wars while providing logistical and security support to US troops. The US government does not thoroughly report contractor deaths, their families are often not compensated for their deaths and injuries, and contractor health care is generally substandard. Foreign workers for US contracting firms often do not have their deaths recorded or compensated.  

It's very possible that Russia seriously downplayed its role in the operation to retake Palmyra. But is Reuters trying to suggest that Putin is lying to the Russian people by not reporting the deaths of a dozen contractors (assuming these reports are true)? 

Because that's insane. Governments rarely report private contractor deaths. That's the whole point of private contractors. This is not a sinister Putin conspiracy. If anything, the Russians are copying how the Americans operate in the Middle East. 

Private contractors are the backbone of all modern military operations, and a dozen killed private contractors in Palmyra wouldn't even scratch Putin's popularity. 

How extensive is Russia's role in Syria? And how many private contractors are operating in Syria? These are interesting questions worth exploring. But "Russia's force in Syria has suffered losses since late January more than three times higher than the official toll" — this is garbage because 1. official tolls should only include official soldiers and 2. "three times higher" is a scary way of saying "18, if you include 12 private contractors who shouldn't be included."

The best part of this report? It was based on "evidence collected by a group of investigative bloggers".

The End. 


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