This is the moment a US fighter jet destroyed a Russian tank in Syria – after it emerged that hundreds of Russian mercenaries are secretly fighting in the country.
The US jet destroyed a Russian-made T-72 tank during a bombing raid designed to protect rebel fighters in Syria on Saturday, reportedly killing hundreds of Russian mercenaries.
If that proves true it would be the biggest clash between American and Russian forces since the end of the Cold War - and represent an escalation of tensions between the world's two most powerful armed forces who are engaged in a war by proxy in Syria.
The tank was targeted near Al Tabiyeh in a bid to stop it firing towards a position held by American forces and their Syrian allies, a Pentagon spokesman said.
It happened days after the US military said its anti-jihadist coalition had carried out strikes in 'self-defense' against forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the same region, leaving an estimated more than 100 pro-regime personnel dead.
Footage captures the moment a US fighter jet destroyed a Russian tank in Syria – after it emerged that hundreds of Russian mercenaries are secretly fighting in the country
The US jet destroyed a Russian-made T-72 tank during a bombing raid designed to protect rebel fighters in Syria on Saturday
A US jet has destroyed a Russian-made T-72 tank (file picture) during a bombing raid designed to protect Syrian rebel figthers, it has emerged
The tank had been 'maneuvering with coordinated indirect fire' on a position held by Syrian Democratic Forces - a US backed rebel movement that has been battling ISIS.
While America has been training and equipping SDF rebels during the brutal civil war in Syria, Russia has been backing forces loyal to dictator Bashar al-Assad operating nearby.
US Marine Corps Major Adrian J.T. Rankine-Galloway told Business Insider that the SDF's 'position was within effective range of the hostile weapons systems.'
There were no deaths or injuries among the SDF or Coalition units following the tank attack, he added.
The T-72 is a Soviet battle tank that entered production in 1971. About 20,000 were built with many exported and entering service in 40 countries and in numerous conflicts around the world.
On February 7, US Central Command said the coalition had carried out strikes to counter an 'unprovoked attack against well-established Syrian Democratic Forces headquarters.'
The bombing raid happened days after the US military said its anti-jihadist coalition had carried out strikes in 'self-defense' against forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (pictured) in the same region, leaving an estimated more than 100 pro-regime personnel dead
While America has been training and equipping SDF rebels (file picture) during the brutal civil war in Syria, Russia has been backing forces loyal to dictator Bashar al-Assad operating nearby
'We estimate more than 100 Syrian pro-regime forces were killed while engaging SDF and coalition forces,' while one SDF member was wounded, a US military official said.
According to CENTCOM, 'coalition service members in an advise, assist, and accompany capacity were co-located with SDF partners during the attack.'
'The coalition conducted strikes against attacking forces to repel the act of aggression,' it said.
The US military official said the attack - which began on Wednesday - involved some 500 personnel from 'pro-regime' forces armed with tanks, artillery and mortars.
The SDF and the coalition targeted the attacking forces with air and artillery strikes after '20 to 30 artillery and tank rounds landed within 500 meters of the SDF headquarters location,' the official said.
The official did not specifically identify the attacking forces, which could have been Syrian or from one of a number of allied militia units, including from Iraq and Lebanon, that are backing Assad in the country's seven-year civil war.
Russia is carrying out strikes in support of Assad, who has received substantial support from Iran as well.
Kremlin lies: President Vladimir Putin is accused of covering-up his reliance on mercenary soldiers, pictured, to minimise the extent of regular army casualties in Syria
Killed: Vladimir Loginov and Igor Kosoturov were both reportedly killed in Syria this month
CENTCOM said the attack occurred eight kilometers (five miles) east of the 'Euphrates River de-confliction line,' referring to a boundary agreed to by Russia and the US, with the former's area of operations to the west of the river and the latter's to its east.
'Coalition officials were in regular communication with Russian counterparts before, during and after the thwarted' attack, the US military official said, adding that 'Russian officials assured coalition officials they would not engage coalition forces in the vicinity.'
The SDF - an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters - is working with coalition support to uproot the last IS jihadists from the east bank of the Euphrates, after capturing IS's main Syrian stronghold Raqa.
The main Kurdish component of the SDF, known as the YPG, or People's Protection Units, is the target of a military operation in northern Syria by US ally Turkey, which considers the YPG a 'terrorist' group.
The attack on the SDF in eastern Syria could spell further trouble for the US-backed forces, which have largely avoided confrontation with pro-Assad units until now.
Accusations: Putin has been accused by opposition politician Grigory Yavlinsky, pictured together, of lying about the government's ties to the mercenary armies
It comes after reports that more than 200 private Russian military contractors were killed in a failed attack on a base held by U.S. and Kurdish forces last week.
In recent weeks, more than 600 Russian mercenaries have reportedly been killed in Syria, many of them in airstrikes carried out by the U.S.-led coalition.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has been challenged to publicly admit to the mass deaths and accused of covering up his government's reliance of hired guns to minimise the extent of regular army casualties.
Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov refrained from commenting on the reports about the deaths last week, saying on Tuesday that they need to be verified.
Asked during a conference call with reporters if Putin raised the episode during Monday's phone conversation with President Donald Trump, Peskov said the situation in Syria wasn't discussed during the call.
The Kremin said it had no information about Russian mercenaries being killed in Syria, saying it only knew about Russian nationals who have been deployed there as members of the armed forces.
'We don't have information about other Russians who might be in Syria,' Peskov told reporters on a conference call.
The denial comes despite the leader of one of the private armies of mercenaries being photographed meeting Putin and attending a ceremony in the Kremlin.