US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the deaths of “300 Russians” in Syria sent a warning to Moscow, as he defended the administration as tough on President Vladimir Putin.
Pompeo came under fire at a Senate hearing over President Donald Trump’s statement that he had not raised with Putin accusations that Moscow paid the Taliban bounties to kill US troops in Afghanistan.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt in the mind of every Russian leader, including Vladimir Putin, about the expectations of the United States of America not to kill Americans,” Pompeo told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“I can promise you that the 300 Russians who were in Syria and who took action that threatened America who are no longer on this planet understand that, too,” he said.
Pompeo did not specify an incident but there have been multiple reports that US airstrikes killed Russians in February 2018 near the Syrian town of Khasham.
Russia sent troops to Syria in 2015 on the official request of President Bashar al-Assad and had largely avoided direct clashes with the United States, which sent troops and launched airstrikes without any UN mandate or Syria’s permission.
Trump, in an interview this week with Axios, said that US intelligence did not think the account of Russian bounties in Afghanistan was real and that he never raised the issue with Putin.
Last year, Trump insisted that the US military presence in Syria is “only for the oil”, contradicting his own officials who had insisted that the remaining forces were there to fight Daesh.
Following Trump’s earlier insistence that his administration was solely interested in “keeping” Syrian oil, the US military deployed mechanized military units to oil fields in the east of the country.
Meanwhile, Russia has said a series of drone attacks on its military bases in Syria would have required assistance from a country possessing satellite navigation technology, apparently the United States.
Russia’s forces at the Hemeimeem air base and a naval facility in Tartus have repeatedly come under drone strikes. Russia’s defense ministry has said data for the attacks could only have been obtained “from one of the countries that possesses knowhow in satellite navigation”.
Russian forces in the past have noted a “strange coincidence” of US military intelligence planes flying over the Mediterranean near the two Russian bases at the moment of the attack.
Syrian, Russian and Iranian sources have also repeatedly reported on US troops coordinating their assaults with Takfiri terrorists and American airlifting of senior Daesh militants during crucial battles.
Syria has recovered major territory from terrorists in Syria, but its troops and their allies in the conflict are frequently attacked by the US, Israel and foreign-backed militants in a bid to stop further army advances.
Last month, US warplanes flew dangerously close to an Iranian passenger plane and harassed it over an illegal American military base in Syria’s al-Tanf.