President Trump's administration apparently sees political opportunity in the deaths of Russian mercenaries.
Bloomberg Politics reported Wednesday that the White House is thinking about touting the deaths of "scores" of Russian fighters, who were recently killed by U.S.-backed forces in Syria, as proof that the president is, in fact, hard on Russia. The U.S.-backed forces reportedly killed the Russian troops in self-defense in an encounter on Feb. 7, after they were attacked by a "battalion-sized formation supported by artillery, tanks, multiple-launch rocket systems and mortars."
However, the attack by the Russians "may have been a rogue operation," Bloomberg reports, and the U.S. apparently believes that this attack was not done with the permission or prior knowledge of the Russian military. It is also "unclear when the White House learned of the attack," Bloomberg notes — all of which could make it difficult to claim the counterattack as proof of the president's tough stance towards Russia. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders referenced a vague "incident" in her Tuesday press briefing that was "another way that this president was tough on Russia," but she did not offer details.
The strategy reportedly stems from the fact that the Trump administration is feeling the squeeze to stand up to Russia after Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russians last week for meddling in the 2016 election. The president has long called the idea of Russian meddling "a hoax" and has been reluctant to criticize Russia.