Mike Pompeo is Trump’s CIA Director who has been nominated to take over as Secretary of State from Rex Tillerson. In his confirmation hearing he told the Senate that US forces have already killed “a couple hundred Russians” in Syria this February:
“The Russians met their match and a couple of hundred were killed.” Pompeo said this trying to argue the Trump administration has already been very tough on Russia, something he intends to only intensify.
Problem is his information is wrong.
Firstly, he did not tell Senate the Russians killed in eastern Syria in February were private military contractors — mercenaries — rather than soldiers of the Russian armed forced. Actually it is very likely they were not even employed and salaried by the Russian government, but by Syria seeing how Russian mercenary presence in Syria predates Russia’s Syria intervention by a full two years.
Secondly, the German magazine Spiegel investigated the matter and found that actually “just” 10-20 Russian contractors were killed in the American strikes.
Finally, far from Russians “meeting their match” the Russians killed weren’t even part of the Syrian advance that supposedly triggered US airstrikes but were targeted unprovoked.
Far from the US wiping out hundreds of advancing Russian troops as is the image Pompeo draws, the US merely attacked a thin Russian mercenary presence and killed a dozen or two unsuspecting soldiers of fortune.
Pompeo’s boasts are very dangerous, especially at a moment when Bolton and Mattis are clashing over what shape the US strikes against Syria should take and just how big the danger of Russian retaliation and the clash spiraling out of control really is.
By claiming incorrectly that the US has already killed hundreds of Russians without an apparent response Pompeo boosts Bolton’s claims that the Russians are bluffing and the US can get away with a massive strike on Syria that endangers and perhaps even kills its troops — though its chief military officer has unequivocally said, before this crisis even broke out, that he will order any ships or aircraft that put his men at risk to be fired upon.