U.S. President Trump’s nominee to replace Rex Tillerson as secretary of state confirmed on Thursday that “a couple hundred Russians were killed by U.S. forces in Syria not too long ago,” TIME reports.
Mike Pompeo, currently still serving as director of the CIA, offered this confirmation in response to questions from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the U.S. relationship with Russia.
“This administration announced a nuclear posture review that has put Russia on notice that we are gonna recapitalize our deterrent force,” Pompeo began.
“In Syria, now, a handful of weeks ago the Russian met their match and a couple hundred Russians were killed,” he added.
Pompeo was referring to an incident in February where the U.S.-led coalition struck pro-government forces in Deir ez-Zor. Not long after, reports emerged that the barrage of strikes also resulted in the deaths of Russian personnel. At first, the Russian Defense Ministry released a statement denying there were any Russian military personnel in the area.
Despite the denial, as reports continued to circulate it was eventually accepted that there were Russian mercenaries on the ground in Syria who had been struck by U.S. warplanes. These mercenaries are not regarded as official Russian military personnel and allegedly have no link to the Kremlin, which means Russia’s denial still held water even though it was prepared to accept that there were Russian-born operatives on the ground there. Soon after, reports also emerged that Russia was treating these mercenaries in their hospitals. Some reports claimed over 300 were killed and wounded in the strike.
However, missing from TIME’s brief report is the fact that Pompeo did not just confirm the incident, he actually openly bragged about it to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as a means of establishing that the president is not soft on Russia as Trump’s critics have alleged. Remember that this man is about to take up the role of secretary of state, a position principally concerned with foreign policy and diplomacy. Is there any other country in the world that – without consequence – can openly brag about committing violent acts of war against other countries without any established legal basis? Even at the time of the attack, western media was quick to frame the incident as one of Russian aggression even though it is the United States that does not have the requisite authorization to conduct military operations in Syria in the first place.
At the beginning of March, German newspaper Der Spiegel published its own investigation into the incident. After sending a team of journalists to the area, Der Spiegel reported that the U.S. had responded to attacks on the U.S.-supported Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) positions in Syria commissioned by Iranian-supported militias. The response entailed the American military unleashing its “entire destructive arsenal,” including rocket-equipped drones, combat helicopters, heavy AC 130 aircraft, rockets, and ground artillery.
The outlet also confirmed that at least 10 to 20 Russian mercenaries had been killed in the strikes, though they did not actually take part in the planned offensives on SDF positions in Syria but were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
If people like Pompeo are bragging about these incidents as something for the administration to be proud of (instead of being put to trial over), it doesn’t bode well for what’s to come considering the U.S. has been openly considering going to war with the Syrian government — and by proxy Russia — this entire week.