Inform Napalm, an international open-source intelligence community, says it has identified the Russian officer who planned a failed assault on Feb. 7 against U.S. and U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in Syria, in which scores of mercenaries from Russian private military company Wagner were allegedly killed.

As the activists say on their website, the operation was led by a Russian citizen Sergey Kim, a former Marine officer with the military ID number M-0971.

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“It was he who masterminded the failed operation and coordinated it with his command from Russia’s official military contingent,” the community said on Feb. 19, referring to insider information provided by “Ikhtamnet_m0209”, an open-source intelligence group with sources close to Wagner.

An alleged photograph of Sergey Kim, who is claimed to be an executive officer with the Wagner private military company, on which U.S. forces inflicted heavy casualties in a battle on Feb. 7 in eastern Syria. (InformNapalm)

Inform Napalm’s claim lines up with an official report by Ukraine’s SBU security service published on Oct. 7, 2017, in which Sergey Kim, born in 1978, was identified as Wagner’s deputy executive officer. Kim’s profile can also be found on the Myrotvorets website, a Ukrainian volunteer database collecting information on persons who, in the opinion of the project’s activists, pose a threat to Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity.

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As reported earlier, on Feb. 7, a force of approximately 500 troops augmented with artillery and armored vehicles advanced against U.S. and Kurdish forces deployed near the town of Khsham near Deir-az-Zor in the oil-rich eastern part of Syria.

Having detected the advancing force, U.S. forces contacted the Russian command in Syria to ascertain if the Russian army were engaged in the assault. According to a Feb. 12 press statement by the U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, the Russian command denied its troops were in the force. After issuing its warning to the Russian headquarters, U.S. forces unleashed a series of airstrikes on the threatening force, devastating the advancing military convoys.

Reuters reported on Feb. 15 that there were up to 300 Russian casualties in the incident, with around 100 men being killed. Many of the wounded are now being treated in military hospitals of Moscow and St. Petersburg, sources told Reuters. According to the reports, the Wagner forces and pro-regime Syrian fighters had been ordered to capture an oil refinery in the region.

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The Feb. 7 battle in eastern Syria made headlines worldwide, with news agency Bloomberg saying that the incident “may be the deadliest clash between (Russia and the United States) since the Cold War.”

The Kremlin, which has been providing military support to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in the ongoing civil war in the country since late September 2015, denied any involvement in the deadly battle and has repeatedly dissociated itself from Wagner.

However, numerous media investigations indicate Wagner was founded by former Russian special forces colonel Dmitriy Utkin as an unofficial private army for use by the Kremlin in secret and sensitive combat missions. Since its inception, the Wagner force has evolved into a full-fledged mechanized infantry brigade, and it reportedly enjoys broad financial support by persons close to the Kremlin, such as Russian billionaire Yevgeniy Prigozhyn, a restaurateur unofficially nicknamed “Putin’s chef” by the Russian press.

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According to the SBU, prior to being deployed in Syria, Wagner mercenaries were also engaged in hostilities in eastern Ukraine in 2014-2015 within the ranks of Russian-led forces. The Ukrainian security agencies say Wagner mercenaries were involved in the battles of Debaltseve and Luhansk Airport, and they were behind the shooting down of an Il-76 aircraft with 49 Ukrainian military servicemen on board over Luhansk in June 2014.

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