Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., faulted the Defense Department for revealing the location of U.S. special forces in Syria to the Russian military.
"I keep on using the word absurd, but I don't know what else to call it," Zinke, a former Navy SEAL commander who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, told the Washington Examiner. "We're putting our troops that are in harm's way at greater risk, there is no doubt in my mind."
U.S. and Russian forces have been in a delicate situation for months, as the two militaries operating in Syria have been at cross-purposes while trying not to come into direct conflict. Russia, which supports Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, has bombed the U.S.-backed rebels that are supposed to fight both Assad and the Islamic State terrorists who control a broad swath of Syria and Iraq.
President Obama deployed U.S. special operators to Syria in late October in an attempt to bolster the U.S.-backed rebels, and Defense Secretary Ash Carter maintained that the U.S. would not "cooperate in a strategy" with Russia. Defense Department officials said Friday that they gave their position to the Russian military in order to avoid the possibility of a Russian airstrike against the Americans.
"It's not specific areas, but certainly broad areas to maintain a level of safety for our forces that are on the ground," Lieutenant General Charles Brown, a commander in the U.S. Air Forces Central Command, said during a briefing from Qatar.
Such information-sharing might prevent a direct conflict, but Zinke warned that Russia could share the information with Assad's ground forces, or even the Islamic State. "Absolutely, if it's in the best interest of Russia and their allies, of course they'll disclose where our troops are," he said. "I don't know how you can actually conduct operations in a worse manner than this."
Russia opposes the Islamic State, but supports Assad, and so they opened their military campaign in Syria by attacking the U.S.-backed groups that are fighting both. General Brown was asked if Russia had promised not to give Islamic State the location of the American troops. "I don't have any assurances, really, from the Russians," he replied.