In the “crowded battlefield” that is Syria, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis confirmed he gave the order for an enemy force that included Russian mercenaries “to be annihilated.”
Mattis made the revelation during testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 26.
Sen. Deb Fischer, Nebraska Republican, asked Mattis about the February attack on U.S. forces in Syria by a group that included Russian mercenaries.
“Did you use that deconflicted line in communication with the Russians when it was reported in February that there were large numbers of Russian irregular forces that had attacked U.S. forces?” Fischer asked.
Mattis responded: “It was used, senator – the Russian High Command in Syria assured us it was not their people. And my direction to the chairman was for the force then was to be annihilated, and it was.”
Related: Russian reporter who covered deaths of mercenaries in Syria dies in fall from 5th floor apartment, April 16, 2018
Fisher also asked: “Are the Russian forces actively harassing American forces in Syria? And what do you believe is an appropriate response if you agree that they are?”
Mattis responded: “I cannot target the responsibility to the Russians right now. As you know, it’s a crowded battlefield, and it’s also got Iranians there. And, of course, the regime forces as well.”
“Right now in Syria, we have an odd and somewhat open and never interrupted deconfliction communication line,” Mattis said. “It’s worked pretty well to make certain we don’t run afoul of one anothers’ forces or one anothers’ operations. They are not coordinated, they’re deconflicted in either time or space. Mostly in space. The river, for example, the Euphrates, divides our activities in some cases.”