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Pentagon reports increase in Russian trolls, propaganda, following US missile strike on Syria

U.S. Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. speaks during a news briefing at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. The Pentagon held a briefing on the latest development of the strike in Syria. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

So-called Russian trolls swarmed the internet just before and after the U.S. missile strikes on Syria, according to the Pentagon.

How many trolls have come out of the woodwork?

“As Secretary Mattis said last night, the Russian disinformation campaign has already begun,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said in a press conference reported by The Hill. “There has been a 2,000 percent increase in Russian trolls in the last 24 hours. Therefore, we will keep you all abreast of the facts moving forward.”

According to The Hill, federal investigators learned that massive amounts of politically inflammatory online content came from Kremlin-backed groups during the election season. That effort comes from a Russian troll farm, the Internet Research Agency, and utilizes fake user profiles and pages on social media.

Russia is known for spreading disinformation online, including tactics the country reportedly used during the 2016 U.S. elections.

Is more disinformation expected?

“Based on recent experience, we fully expect a significant disinformation campaign over the coming days by those who have aligned themselves with the Assad regime,” Secretary of Defense James Mattis said.

According to published reports, White said the U.S. does not seek conflict with Syria but “cannot allow such grievous violations of international law” and attacks on innocent Syrians.

“We will not stand by passively while Assad, backed by Russia and Iran, ignores international law,” White said. “We call upon Russia to honor its commitment to ensure the Assad regime dismantles its chemical weapons program and never uses chemical weapons again.”

The U.S. military launched targeted missile strikes Friday on facilities where the Syrian government is believed to be storing chemical weapons. The Syrian government is also believed to have used chemical weapons that killed more than 40 civilians last week.

Syria, and its two allies Russia and Iran, have denied any use of chemical weapons. Russia claims the entire narrative was fabricated by western forces. Russia also reportedly has troops in Syria in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

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