While testifying in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) asked Secretary of Defense James Mattis about the February attack on U.S. forces by Russian mercenaries in Syria.
Mattis said that after consulting with the Russian high command and being told the attacking forces were not theirs, he then ordered for the attacking force to be annihilated.
“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?” Fischer asked.
“I cannot target the responsibility to the Russians right now,” Mattis replied. “As you know, it’s a crowded battlefield, and it’s also got Iranians there. And, of course, the regime forces as well.”
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“Right now in Syria, we have an odd and somewhat open and never interrupted deconfliction communication line,” he continued. “It’s worked pretty well to make certain we don’t run afoul of one another’s forces or one another’s operations.
“They are not coordinated, they’re deconflicted in either time or space,” Mattis added. “Mostly in space. The river, for example, the Euphrates, divides our activities in some cases.”
“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 followed up.
“It was used, senator — the Russian High Command in Syria assured us it was not their people,” Mattis answered. “And my direction to the chairman was for the force then was to be annihilated, and it was.”