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Coalition destroys Russian-made tank in Syria

© AFP/File | The US military says the strike on the T-72 was conducted in self-defense

WASHINGTON (AFP) - 

A US-led coalition drone has destroyed a Russian-designed tank in eastern Syria close to the scene of last week's attack on pro-regime forces that left more than 100 Damascus loyalists dead, officials said Tuesday.

The strike on the T-72 tank occurred Saturday near Al Tabiyeh, in Deir Ezzor province, the Pentagon said in a statement.

"We detected and saw a tank that took a shot at us," Lieutenant General Jeffrey Harrigian, who heads up Air Force operations for the region, told Pentagon reporters.

"It continued to move, so we... executed self-defense rules of engagement to protect ourselves."

For the most part, the US-led coalition has managed to skirt the edges of Syria's civil war by staying focused on the Islamic State group.

But occasional attacks on pro-regime forces, which the US says are conducted in self defense, raise the risks of it being sucked into a broader conflict.

Harrigian was careful to avoid speculating who was inside the tank, though the T-72 is widely used by the Syrian army.

The incident came three days after the US-led coalition killed more than 100 forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after shelling and using tanks to fire at the SDF and coalition advisors.

Several Russians died in Deir Ezzor that day, according to groups representing them.

Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesman, said the coalition had spoken with Russia via a special hotline prior to the strike "to avoid misperceptions and miscalculations that could endanger each other's forces."

At the time of the February 7 attack, the Russian defense ministry said "there are no Russian servicemen in Deir-Ezzor."

However, many Russian citizens are fighting in Syria as mercenaries working for a private military company called Wagner, according to numerous reports.

© 2018 AFP