BY REBECCA KHEEL – 04/12/18 12:31 PM EDT
Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo pointed Thursday to the U.S. military killing “a couple hundred” Russians in Syria as evidence of the Trump administration’s toughness on Moscow.
“A handful of weeks ago, the Russians met their match. A couple hundred Russians were killed,” Pompeo told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during his confirmation hearing.
The comment from Pompeo, currently the CIA director, appears to be the first time a U.S. official has publicly confirmed that Russians were killed as part of the U.S. strike in Deir al-Zour province, and the first time an administration official has cited the incident to defend President Trump‘s Russia stance.
In February, U.S. forces struck what the Pentagon described as pro-Syrian regime forces after an “unprovoked” attack on the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.
At the time, the Pentagon repeatedly declined to confirm the composition of the pro-regime forces involved in the incident.
But reports citing U.S. unnamed officials said that “scores” of Russian mercenaries were killed and injured. Russia later conceded that “several dozens” of its citizens were injured and an unspecified number killed, though it insisted its military was not involved at all.
Pro-regime forces and U.S.-backed forces have been converging in the Middle Euphrates River Valley, where the last remaining pockets of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters are. The U.S. and Russia have agreed to “deconflict” the area by having each of its forces stay on separate sides of the Euphrates River.
Following Pompeo’s comment, committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) thanked him for highlighting the strike.
“I don’t think enough has been said or made of the fact the Russia crossed the Euphrates with their own troops and were annihilated, and it was really a strong statement that I don’t think many are paying as much attention to as should,” Corker said.