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US says clash averted with Russian mercenaries in Syria

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US forces in Syria narrowly averted another clash with Russian mercenaries like one last month that left more than 100 opposing fighters dead, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Tuesday.

Mattis told reporters that “Russian elements” moved across a deconfliction line into an area on the eastern side of the Euphrates river where the sides had previously agreed they could operate, he said.

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But he said they came “too close” to positions of US soldiers in the area.

The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joe Dunford, contacted his Russian counterpart, General Valery Gerasimov, about the incursion.

“And those elements fell back so we have also drawn off slightly to maintain the deconfliction between the elements there,” he said.

“So it seems that this time, it was resolved through the deconfliction communication line,” he added.

Mattis did not give a precise date for the incident, but on Thursday the Pentagon issued a brief statement noting that Dunford and Gerasimov had held talks on Syria and other matters of mutual interest.

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According to a US official, the Russian mercenaries have been moving into an area near Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria.

It was when they began digging firing positions that the US troops deployed in the area along side their Syrian Democratic Force allies became concerned, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The incident comes less than two months after an attack in the same area on the headquarters of the SDF, an alliance of US-backed Kurdish and Arab fighters.

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US soldiers were in the building and alerted the US-led coalition, which responded with an air strike that killed 100 to 200 fighters, including numerous Russians.

Evoking that attack, Mattis noted that it was led by “Russian mercenaries.” It was the first time that he directly accused Russia of involvement.

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2020 Election

Here are 3 winners and 3 losers from the 2020 Democratic presidential primary debate

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Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg joined the other leading Democratic presidential primary candidates Wednesday night in the fieriest evening of the race so far.

His presence on the stage drew fire from the other candidates, but it also seemed to change the overall tone of the debate, with more attacks, counter-attacks, and passion than was generally seen earlier in the campaign.

Here’s a (necessarily subjective!) list of the winners and losers from the fray:

Winners

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) — Warren hit her stride right as the debate started by attacking Bloomberg for his record on the mistreatment of women, racist policies, and his tax returns. She repeatedly came back to skewer the former mayor, making herself the biggest and most notable presence in the debate. But importantly, she also continuously brought the discussion back to the issues she cares about — like expanding health care, environmental justice,  and consumer protection — while getting in digs at the other candidates on the stage.

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Michael Bloomberg ‘lost everything’ in Las Vegas: MSNBC analyst

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Senior editor for "The Root," Jason Johnson, concluded that the biggest loser of the Democratic debate in Las Vegas Wednesday was Michael Bloomberg, but not merely because of his debate performance.

"The big new name was going to be Michael Bloomberg," he said. "This was probably the most expensive night in Vegas I've ever seen. He lost everything. This guy has spent $320 million. He had the opportunity to stand on stage, and appear to be an equal, and he looked bored. He looked disenchanted. He stumbled over obvious questions that anybody would have anticipated about sexual harassment and stop and frisk. I thought it was a bad night for him."

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Pro-immigration protesters interrupt Joe Biden’s closing statement at debate

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Former Vice President Joe Biden's closing statement was interrupted by protesters at Thursday night's Democratic presidential debate.

As Biden began his remarks, demonstrators began shouting about the Obama administration's record on deportations.

WATCH: Protesters interrupt the #DemDebate as the debate nears end. pic.twitter.com/TKCn6eIEsN

— NBC News (@NBCNews) February 20, 2020

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