In her daily press briefing Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders rejected the contention that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russian nationals for interfering with the 2016 election proves the Trump administration is soft on Russia.
To back up her point, Sanders drew a distinction between former president Barack Obama’s policies towards Russia and President Donald Trump’s Russia policy, and insisted Trump has been much tougher on Russia than Obama was.
Sanders was right.
Not only is the administration tough on Russia, but its toughness is also a function of a hard-headed strategy to diminish Russian power in Syria and throughout the Middle East.
Russia was able to accrue its power in the Middle East through its intervention in Syria on behalf of the Bashar Assad regime and his Iranian overlords. Russia felt free to deploy its forces to Syria in September 2015 – for the first time since the Cold War — due to Obama’s strategic shift away from America’s Middle East allies and towards Iran.
The Trump administration’s strategy is not a rhetorical flourish. No senior official has spelled it out. Indeed, Secretary of Defense James Mattis has all but denied it. Nevertheless, U.S. moves on the ground signal strongly that America’s goal is to diminish – with the hope of eliminating – Russia’s power in Syria.
On February 7, several hundred Russian forces — mercenaries from Wagner, a Kremlin-linked military contractor — joined Syrian elite forces from the Russian-trained ISIS Hunter unit, along with Iranian advisors. Together, this force of 500 crossed the Euphrates from west to east into Syria’s Deir al-Zour province. The zone they entered is designated a neutral area under a deal forged between the Russian military and the U.S.-led coalition. Their target area was Khusham village, which is located on the outskirts of the Conoco oil field.
The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) liberated the Khusham and the oil fields area from ISIS in late 2017. SDF retained control over the area, along with much of eastern Syria. Indeed, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson noted earlier this month, U.S. forces and their SDF allies control some 30 percent of Syrian territory, largely located east of the Euphrates.
On the night of February 7, U.S. forces attached to the SDF detected the Russian-led force and warned the Russian military that if the attacking troops failed to withdraw to the other side of the river, the U.S. would attack them. Rather than comply with the American directive, the Russian-led attackers advanced to within three miles of the U.S.-SDF position, attacking it with mortars, rockets, artillery and tanks.
The US responded to the assault with a massive air assault, which included fighter jets, and helicopter and artillery fire. According to Reuters, between eighty and hundred Russian mercenaries were killed. Two hundred were wounded. One hundred Syrian forces were also killed.
The Russian wounded were transported back to Russia on military aircraft. They are being treated in military hospitals.
Sources close to the Wagner mercenaries told Reuters that the Russian-led force was taken by surprise by the Americans’ decision to attack them. Under the Obama administration, the U.S. did not respond when Russia and its partners attacked U.S.-backed forces in battle after battle.
This distinction, by itself, would prove Sanders’s claim that the Trump administration is tougher on Russia than the Obama administration. But it would be a mistake to view the strike as a mere demonstration of resolve. It exposed that the Trump administration is determined to dramatically reduce Russia’s power in Syria.Read the rest here at Breitbart.