Russian marine major killed in combat in Syria
A Russian marine major has been killed in combat in Syria, Russian news agencies reported on Thursday, confirming an earlier report that one of Moscow's highest-ranking officers there had lost his life.
Major Sergei Bordov was killed during an attack by militants on a garrison, they said, quoting the Russian defence ministry.
Earlier on Thursday, Reuters agency reported Bordov's death, citing a former marine who had served with him and a person close to the Russian Black Sea Fleet.
"They were caught in shell fire. Two of our Russian servicemen and two Syrian soldiers died," Vyacheslav Pavlyuchenko, who has served with Bordov, told Reuters.
He said the shelling incident occurred on Tuesday and that he did not know the names of the other fallen soldiers.
Bordov is one of the highest-ranking Russian officers to be killed in Syria. Pavlyuchenko said Bordov commanded a reconnaissance company two years ago but he did not know the major's current role in the Syria operation.
The defence ministry says about 30 Russian servicemen have been killed since the start of the Kremlin's operation there in September 2015.
Evidence collected by Reuters points to losses among Russian servicemen and private military contractors in Syria three to four times higher than some official estimates, although the defence ministry has denied understating the death toll.
Russian forces are backing the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his war with rebels and militants seeking to oust him.
The Syrian conflict began when the Baath regime, in power since 1963 and led by President Bashar al-Assad, responded with military force to peaceful protests demanding democratic reforms during the Arab Spring wave of uprisings, triggering an armed rebellion fueled by mass defections from the Syrian army.
According to independent monitors, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed in the war, mostly by the regime and its powerful allies, and millions have been displaced both inside and outside of Syria.
The brutal tactics pursued mainly by the regime, which have included the use of chemical weapons, sieges, mass executions and torture against civilians have led to war crimes investigations.