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Thread: U.S. Soldiers Attacked Building Inside Syria: Report

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    U.S. Soldiers Attacked Building Inside Syria: Report

    US soldiers attacked building inside Syria: report

    http://rawstory.com/news/2008/US_sol...yria_1026.html

    Agence France-Presse
    10/26/2008

    DAMASCUS (AFP) — American helicopter-borne troops launched an assault on Sunday on a building in a Syrian border village with Iraq, killing eight civilians, official Syrian media reported.

    "Four American helicopters violated Syrian airspace around 16:45 local time (1345 GMT) on Sunday," state television and the official SANA news agency said.

    "American soldiers" who had emerged from helicopters "attacked a civilian building under construction and fired at workmen inside, causing eight deaths," the reports said.

    "The helicopters then left Syrian territory towards Iraqi territory," SANA said.

    Earlier, the private television channel al-Dunia said nine civilians died in the attack on the village of Al-Sukkiraya, around 550 kilometres (340 miles) northeast of the capital in the Abu Kamal area.

    "We are in the process of investigating this," Sergeant Brooke Murphy, a US military spokeswoman, told AFP in Baghdad.

    US commanders say Syria is the main transit point for foreign jihadists crossing into Iraq. Washington has blamed Damascus for turning a blind eye to the problem.

    On October 16 Iraqi forces arrested seven Syrian "terrorist" suspects at a checkpoint near the city of Baquba, a hub of Al-Qaeda fighters, the Baghdad defence ministry said.

    Iraqi President Jalal Talabani told US President George W. Bush last month that Iran and Syria -- long targets of US blame over the deadly unrest in Iraq -- no longer pose a problem.

    Iraqi officials have also said that Syria has been increasing border security.

    Syria's first ambassador to Iraq in 26 years took up his post in Baghdad this month, marking the official end of more than two decades of icy relations.

    On September 28 US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice confirmed she had met her Syrian counterpart, Walid Muallem, to discuss Middle East peace efforts despite renewed criticism from Washington over Syrian policies.

    Syrian and US diplomats said the talks touched on Iraq, Lebanon and Middle East peace negotiations.

    It was Rice's second meeting with Muallem since November 2007 when they held talks on the sidelines of a conference on Iraq. The two first met in May last year during another gathering on Iraq.

    Their talks came after US President George W. Bush slammed Syria in his farewell address to the UN General Assembly.

    "A few nations -- regimes like Syria and Iran -- continue to sponsor terror," Bush charged.

    Washington has also accused Damascus of failing to give adequate cooperation to the International Atomic Energy Agency in its investigation into a mystery facility bombed by Israel in September last year that US officials have charged was a nuclear plant.

    Chilly relations between Syria and the United States grew more tense after Washington accused Damascus of being behind the assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005. here.
    No One Knows Everything. Only Together May We Find The Truth JG


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    U.S. Special Forces Launch Rare Attack Inside Syria

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20081026/..._syria_us_raid

    10/27/2008

    DAMASCUS, Syria – U.S. military helicopters launched an extremely rare attack Sunday on Syrian territory close to the border with Iraq, killing eight people in a strike the government in Damascus condemned as "serious aggression."

    A U.S. military official said the raid by special forces targeted the network of al-Qaida-linked foreign fighters moving through Syria into Iraq. The Americans have been unable to shut the network down in the area because Syria was out of the military's reach.

    "We are taking matters into our own hands," the official told The Associated Press in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivity of cross-border raids.

    The attack came just days after the commander of U.S. forces in western Iraq said American troops were redoubling efforts to secure the Syrian border, which he called an "uncontrolled" gateway for fighters entering Iraq.

    A Syrian government statement said the helicopters attacked the Sukkariyeh Farm near the town of Abu Kamal, five miles inside the Syrian border. Four helicopters attacked a civilian building under construction shortly before sundown and fired on workers inside, the statement said.

    The government said civilians were among the dead, including four children.

    A resident of the nearby village of Hwijeh said some of the helicopters landed and troops exited the aircraft and fired on a building. He said the aircraft flew along the Euphrates River into the area of farms and several brick factories. The witness spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information,

    Syria's Foreign Ministry said it summoned the charges d'affaires of the United States and Iraq to protest against the strike.

    "Syria condemns this aggression and holds the American forces responsible for this aggression and all its repercussions. Syria also calls on the Iraqi government to shoulder its responsibilities and launch and immediate investigation into this serious violation and prevent the use of Iraqi territory for aggression against Syria," the government statement said.

    The area targeted is near the Iraqi border city of Qaim, which had been a major crossing point for fighters, weapons and money coming into Iraq to fuel the Sunni insurgency.

    Iraqi travelers making their way home across the border reported hearing many explosions, said Farhan al-Mahalawi, mayor of Qaim.

    On Thursday, U.S. Maj. Gen. John Kelly said Iraq's western borders with Saudi Arabia and Jordan were fairly tight as a result of good policing by security forces in those countries but that Syria was a "different story."

    "The Syrian side is, I guess, uncontrolled by their side," Kelly said. "We still have a certain level of foreign fighter movement."

    He added that the U.S. was helping construct a sand berm and ditches along the border.

    "There hasn't been much, in the way of a physical barrier, along that border for years," Kelly said.

    The foreign fighters network sends militants from North Africa and elsewhere in the Middle East to Syria, where elements of the Syrian military are in league with al-Qaida and loyalists of Saddam Hussein's Baath party, the U.S. military official said.

    He said that while American forces have had considerable success, with Iraqi help, in shutting down the "rat lines" in Iraq, and with foreign government help in North Africa, the Syrian node has been out of reach.

    "The one piece of the puzzle we have not been showing success on is the nexus in Syria," the official said.

    The White House in August approved similar special forces raids from Afghanistan across the border of Pakistan to target al-Qaida and Taliban operatives. At least one has been carried out.

    The flow of foreign fighters into Iraq has been cut to an estimated 20 a month, a senior U.S. military intelligence official told the Associated Press in July. That's a 50 percent decline from six months ago, and just a fifth of the estimated 100 foreign fighters who were infiltrating Iraq a year ago, according to the official.

    Ninety percent of the foreign fighters enter through Syria, according to U.S. intelligence. Foreigners are some of the most deadly fighters in Iraq, trained in bomb-making and with small-arms expertise and more likely to be willing suicide bombers than Iraqis.

    Foreign fighters toting cash have been al-Qaida in Iraq's chief source of income. They contributed more than 70 percent of operating budgets in one sector in Iraq, according to documents captured in September 2007 on the Syrian border. Most of the fighters were conveyed through professional smuggling networks, according to the report.

    Iraqi insurgents seized Qaim in April 2005, forcing U.S. Marines to recapture the town the following month in heavy fighting. The area became secure only after Sunni tribes in Anbar turned against al-Qaida in late 2006 and joined forces with the Americans.

    Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem accused the United States earlier this year of not giving his country the equipment needed to prevent foreign fighters from crossing into Iraq. He said Washington feared Syria could use such equipment against Israel.

    Though Syria has long been viewed by the U.S. as a destabilizing country in the Middle East, in recent months, Damascus has been trying to change its image and end years of global seclusion.

    Its president, Bashar Assad, has pursued indirect peace talks with Israel, mediated by Turkey, and says he wants direct talks next year. Syria also has agreed to establish diplomatic ties with Lebanon, a country it used to dominate both politically and militarily, and has worked harder at stemming the flow of militants into Iraq.

    The U.S. military in Baghdad did not immediately respond to a request for comment after Sunday's raid.
    No One Knows Everything. Only Together May We Find The Truth JG


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    Syria slams deadly village raid as US 'war crime'

    http://rawstory.com/news/afp/Syria_s..._10272008.html

    10/27/2008

    Syria protested vehemently on Monday over what it said was a US attack on a border village that left eight civilians dead, with the official press branding it a "war crime."

    "The American forces from Iraq committed cold-blooded murder," the government newspaper Tishrin wrote. "They committed a war crime in killing eight Syrian civilians in a quiet village."

    Official media reported that American helicopter-borne troops from Iraq launched an assault on a building site Sunday in the village of Al-Sukkiraya, which lies just eight kilometres (five miles) from the border.

    The US military in Iraq said in a statement it does not have "any information" on the the incident, which if confirmed would be the first of its kind into Syrian territory.

    Damascus has summoned the official US and Iraqi representatives in protest, the official SANA news agency said, describing the dead as a father and his four children, a couple and another man.

    Syrian state television broadcast pictures of the scene, showing a building site with bloodstains on the ground, and the bodies of victims lying in the morgue.

    "Four American helicopters violated Syrian airspace around 1645 (1445 GMT) on Sunday. American soldiers attacked a civilian building under construction and fired at workmen inside, causing eight deaths," official media said.

    "Syria condemns and denounces this act of aggression and US forces will bear the responsibility for any consequences," SANA quoted an unidentified official as saying.

    "Syria also demands that the Iraqi government accept its responsibilities and launches an immediate inquiry following this dangerous violation and forbids the use of Iraqi territory to launch attacks on Syria."

    Foreign Minister Walid Muallem is due in London for a visit on Monday.

    "This American aggression illustrates the stupidity of the administration of (US President George W.) Bush," Tishrin said. "The Bush administration must acknowledge the war crimes it has committed in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Syria."

    In Washington, a Pentagon spokesman Commander Darryn James said there was "no response" from the US Department of Defence.

    The Iraqi defence ministry has also refused to comment.

    US commanders say Syria is the main transit point for foreign jihadists crossing into Iraq and have blamed Damascus for turning a blind eye to the problem but Iraqi officials have said Syria has been boosting border security.

    Al-Sukkiraya is on the Euphrates river across the border from the Iraqi town of Al-Qaim, a stronghold of Al-Qaeda and other insurgents. US commanders have regularly said the area around Qaim is a transit point for foreign fighters.

    "I heard shooting, I ran to get my son and they shot me," one woman lying in a hospital bed told Syrian state television in footage aired on Monday.

    "I was fishing and I saw four helicopters. They started shooting like the rain," said another man, his arm in a bandage. "I saw eight soldiers coming out (of a helicopter) with weapons... I tried to flee and I was hit."

    Last month, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani told Bush that Iran and Syria -- long targets of US blame over the deadly unrest in the country -- no longer pose a problem.

    However, on October 16 Iraqi forces arrested seven Syrian "terrorist" suspects at a checkpoint near the city of Baquba, a hub of Al-Qaeda fighters, the Iraqi defence ministry said.

    Syria's first ambassador to Iraq in 26 years took up his post in Baghdad this month, marking the official end of more than two decades of icy relations.

    On September 28, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice confirmed she had met her Syrian counterpart to discuss Middle East peace efforts despite renewed criticism from Washington over Syrian policies.

    Their talks came after Bush slammed Damascus in an addresss to the UN General Assembly, saying regimes like Syria and Iran "continue to sponsor terror."

    Washington has also accused Damascus of failing to give adequate cooperation to the International Atomic Energy Agency in its investigation into a mystery facility bombed by Israel in September last year that US officials have charged was a nuclear plant.
    No One Knows Everything. Only Together May We Find The Truth JG


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    U.S. Calls Raid a Warning to Syria
    Copter-Borne Troops Targeted Key Iraqi Insurgent, Officials Say

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn...l?hpid=topnews

    By Ann Scott Tyson and Ellen Knickmeyer
    Washington Post staff writers
    Tuesday, October 28, 2008; Page A01

    U.S. troops in helicopters flew four miles into Syrian territory over the weekend to target the leader of a network that channels foreign fighters from Syria into Iraq, killing or wounding him and shooting dead several armed men, U.S. officials said Monday.

    U.S. officials have long complained that the Syrian government has allowed Arab fighters to pass through the country to enter Iraq, but since last year, top military leaders have praised Syrian efforts to curb the flow. In recent months, officials have estimated that as few as 20 fighters a month have been crossing into Iraq, down from more than a hundred a month in 2006.

    But officials said the raid Sunday, apparently the first acknowledged instance of U.S. ground forces operating in Syria, was intended to send a warning to the Syrian government. "You have to clean up the global threat that is in your back yard, and if you won't do that, we are left with no choice but to take these matters into our hands," said a senior U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the cross-border strike.

    The United States has offered similar justifications for recent cross-border strikes in Pakistan, where it has launched missile attacks and at least one air assault against suspected members of Afghanistan's Taliban insurgency. "As targets present themselves, and are identified . . . they become more and more at risk. Just like in Pakistan, there will be steps taken to deal with it," the senior official said.

    Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem called the operation Sunday a "criminal and terrorist aggression" that killed seven civilians. Speaking to reporters in London, he said Bush administration officials were following "the policy of cowboys" and noted that the United States has been unable to seal its own border with Mexico.

    The office of French President Nicolas Sarkozy issued a statement expressing "serious concerns" about the raid and the loss of Syrian lives. Syria has lately embarked on policies that France and other Western governments have viewed favorably, including indirect peace talks with Israel. Russia also voiced concern about the operation.

    In the raid, four helicopters carrying U.S. troops flew into an isolated area of scattered residences and buildings in search of an Iraqi insurgent whom the U.S. Treasury designated in February as a key facilitator of the transfer of weapons, money and fighters into Iraq. Treasury officials gave his full name as Badran Turki Hishan al-Mazidih and his nickname as Abu Ghadiyah, and said that the founder of the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, had named him the organization's commander for Syrian logistics in 2004.

    On the ground, U.S. troops disembarked and opened fire to kill "several armed males who posed a threat to U.S. forces," according to the senior official. The official declined to say whether Mazidih was killed or injured in the fighting. Other unnamed U.S. officials were quoted in news media accounts Monday as saying he had been killed.

    Moualem said U.S. troops landed at a farm where they killed a father and his three children, the farm's guard and his wife, and a fisherman.

    The network run by Mazidih has smuggled hundreds of foreign fighters into Iraq, including many who became suicide bombers, officials and analysts said. "He ran one of the largest and most productive foreign fighter networks out of Syria" and was "directly responsible for hundreds of foreign fighters who killed thousands" of Iraqis, the senior official said.

    The U.S. military has shown patience, the official said, but "eventually you can't wait for guys like that to come back across the border and kill scores of Iraqis or, worse, your own forces."

    A summer 2007 U.S. military raid on a suspected al-Qaeda in Iraq house in the Iraqi town of Sinjar, near Syria, yielded a wealth of information about alleged Syrian smuggling networks used to move foreign fighters into Iraq.

    The documents included al-Qaeda in Iraq records of more than 500 foreign fighters who had entered from Syria, according to the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., where civilian analysts are examining the documents. A July report made public their latest findings.

    The documents indicated that at least 95 Syrian "coordinators" were involved in moving the foreign fighters. Many of the coordinators were from smuggling families in Bedouin clans and other Syrian tribes. A number of them appeared to be cooperating with al-Qaeda in Iraq for pay rather than out of ideological sympathy.

    Many recruits reported to their handlers in Iraq that they had passed through Damascus, Syria's capital, and then an area near the Iraqi border called Abu Kamal. Sunday's raid occurred in Abu Kamal.

    U.S. officers long have called the Syrian smuggling routes "ratlines." American forces in western Anbar province sustained some of the highest losses of the war in 2006 and 2007, as U.S. troops fought to drive out al-Qaeda in Iraq from border towns and shut down the smuggling of fighters, weapons and money.

    The "Syrian government has willingly ignored, and in some cases may have assisted, foreign fighters headed to Iraq," according to the report of the Combating Terrorism Center.

    But Syria has also made some efforts to curtail the smuggling, including instances of chasing coordinators taking Libyan fighters into Iraq, according to Brian Fishman, a lead author of the report.

    Certainly, "the Syrian government doesn't deserve a pass on this," he said. "But there are some things that limit their ability to act out there. The state is not as strong there as it is in other parts of the country."

    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a member of the Alawite religious minority, ruling over a majority-Sunni country. The government varies between trying to crack down on the smuggling networks, and their Sunni al-Qaeda in Iraq partners, and simply trying to monitor them, Fishman said.

    "Over the long run I think it's clear an Alawite government and an al-Qaeda-style network are not on the same side of history," Fishman said. "They're playing with fire to a certain extent."

    Syria says it too has been targeted by al-Qaeda, citing a deadly bombing in Damascus this summer.

    In the case of Pakistan, the United States has justified cross-border artillery and missile strikes and at least one ground raid -- a widely publicized helicopter-borne assault on Sept. 3 -- as acts of self-defense.

    "We will do what is necessary to protect our troops," Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said in Senate testimony last month, when asked about the cross-border operations. Under questioning, Gates said that he was not an expert in international law but that he assumed the State Department had consulted such laws before the U.S. military was granted authority to make such strikes.

    More broadly, U.S. military and intelligence officials and analysts have asserted for years that such strikes are justified if a country is unwilling or unable to control its own territory or the threats emanating from inside its borders. U.S. strikes can goad such countries into action, officials say.

    The military's argument is that "you can only claim sovereignty if you enforce it," said Anthony Cordesman, a military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "When you are dealing with states that do not maintain their sovereignty and become a de facto sanctuary, the only way you have to deal with them is this kind of operation," he said.

    Knickmeyer reported from Cairo. Staff writer Karen DeYoung in Washington and correspondent Ernesto Londoño and special correspondents K.I. Ibrahim and Zaid Sabah in Baghdad contributed to this report.
    No One Knows Everything. Only Together May We Find The Truth JG


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    US shows it is ready to take the war across boundaries

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/wo...es-975172.html

    Monday, 27 October 2008

    The US commando attack inside Syrian territory appears to amplify an emerging message to countries giving safe passage to terrorists: Take action, or America will.

    A Washington military official said special forces conducted the raid in Syria to target the network of al Qaida-linked foreign fighters moving through Syria to help fight in the war in Iraq.

    Syria said troops in four helicopters attacked a building and killed eight people, including four children.

    "We are taking matters into our own hands," the official said.

    Although the flow of foreign fighters from Syria to Iraq has been declining, Americans have been unable to shut down the network in the area struck because Syria was out of the military's reach.

    The move appears to echo one taken recently in America's other current war. President Bush in July secretly approved military raids inside anti-terror ally Pakistan, which has been unwilling or unable to stem the flow of militants hiding in Pakistan and waging cross-border raids into Afghanistan.

    Helicopter-borne US special forces conducted a raid in September inside Pakistan - the only one known so far following Mr Bush's order. Islamabad has complained bitterly about the move, which it says killed two dozen people, including civilians.

    The US has become frustrated with the use of Pakistan's north-western tribal areas as a haven for militants nearly seven years since the Taliban was rousted from Afghanistan for harbouring Osama bin Laden.

    The weekend's raid came just days after the commander of US forces in western Iraq said American troops were redoubling efforts to secure the Syrian border, which he called an "uncontrolled" gateway for fighters entering Iraq.

    Syria called the raid a "serious aggression," and its foreign ministry summoned the charges d'affaires of the United States and Iraq in protest.

    Government newspapers also published scathing criticisms of the raid today. Tishrin splashed its front pages with a headline denouncing it as a "US war crime," while Al-Baath newspaper described the attack in an editorial as a "stunning, shocking and unprecedented adventure."
    No One Knows Everything. Only Together May We Find The Truth JG


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    US raid in Syria led by CIA

    http://www.thenational.ae/article/20...84888/-1/SPORT

    Paul Woodward, Online Correspondent
    Last Updated: October 28. 2008 3:34PM UAE / October 28. 2008 11:34AM GMT

    ”A CIA-led raid on a compound in eastern Syria killed an al Qa'eda in Iraq commander who oversaw the smuggling into Iraq of foreign fighters whose attacks claimed thousands of Iraqi and American lives, three US officials said Monday.

    “The body of Badran Turki Hishan al Mazidih, an Iraqi national who used the norm de guerre Abu Ghadiya, was flown out of Syria on a US helicopter at the end of the operation Sunday by CIA paramilitary officers and special forces, one US official said.

    “ ‘It was a successful operation,’ a second US official told McClatchy. ‘The bottom line: This was a significant blow to the foreign fighter pipeline between Syria and Iraq.’

    A senior US military officer said the raid was launched after human and technical intelligence confirmed that al Mazidih was present at the compound close to Syria’s border with Iraq. ‘The situation finally presented itself,’ he said.”

    The Associated Press reported: “Some Iraqi officials warned that the US military raid into Syria could be used by opponents of a security pact under negotiation with the United States.

    “ ‘Now neighbouring countries have a good reason to be concerned about the continued US presence in Iraq,’ prominent Kurdish politician Mahmoud Othman told the Associated Press.

    “Abbawi said he did not believe the Syrian raid would affect the security negotiations but acknowledged that ‘some will use the incident for the argument against the agreement’.”

    The Sunday Times reported: “Senior Iraqi politicians have warned that a crucial deal between Baghdad and Washington governing the presence of American troops in the country is doomed to failure after eight months of talks.

    “ ‘The Sofa [Status of Forces Agreement] is dead in the water,’ said one Iraqi politician close to the talks.

    “He added that Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, believed that signing it would be ‘political suicide’.

    “The collapse of the deal would severely undermine American policy. An agreement is needed to put America’s presence on a legal basis after the United Nations mandate for its 154,000 troops in Iraq expires on December 31.”

    The Times said: “Britain and Syria cancelled a planned joint press conference of their foreign ministers in London today as the fallout continued over an American military raid into Syrian territory that left eight civilians dead.

    “The attack threatens to overshadow what was a long-planned visit to London by Walid Muallem, the Syrian Foreign Minister, aimed at repairing the two countries’ rocky relationship under the leadership of Tony Blair.

    “Damascus has been incensed by the attack, which Washington has yet to comment on. David Miliband had hoped to capitalise on Syria’s desire for stronger ties with the West to persuade it towards a more active role in the search for Middle Eastern peace. But talks today will inevitably be dominated by Syrian protest over the American military action.”

    In Asia Times, Kaveh Afrasiabi wrote: “Tehran feels increasingly threatened by the United States-Iraq security agreement that will allow 50 US military bases throughout Iraq, including several in areas close to the Iran-Iraq border.

    “ ‘The Status of Forces agreement permits the construction of large US forward bases near not only Iran but also Syria and as a result is a cause of serious worry by both Tehran and Damascus,’ said a prominent Tehran University political science professor.

    “In light of the incursion on Sunday by US forces inside Syrian territory, ostensibly to pursue al Qa’eda terrorists, there is suddenly concern on the part of many analysts in Tehran that the security agreement between Baghdad and Washington is not simply an internal matter for Iraqis to decide, but rather a regional issue that calls for direct input by Iraq’s neighbours.”

    In The Guardian, Simon Tisdall wrote: “The US attack is but the latest in a series of unanswered affronts to Syria. In September last year Israeli bombers destroyed a supposed nuclear facility. There have been several violent deaths of senior regime figures, such as the army General Mohammed Suleiman, and of Syria’s proteges, such as Hizbollah’s Imad Mughniyeh. And there have been ‘hot pursuit’ US cross-border attacks before, notably in 2005 when a border guard was killed.

    “ ‘The common denominator of all these operations is that nobody takes the Syrians seriously any more, given the repeated violations of their sovereignty. It is doubtful the domestic security situation there has ever been this unstable,’ said Amos Harel of the Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz. Even so, he suggested, the Americans would not have taken so provocative a step unless they were convinced they had a high-value jihadi leader in their sights."
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    Questions raised over Syrian complicity in US raid
    Syria has denounced a US strike on its territory but sources say Damascus secretly backed the raid

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/new...cle5062848.ece

    Marie Colvin and Uzi Mahnaimi
    November 2, 2008

    The 38-year-old farmer was watering his maize in the scrubby vastness of eastern Syria when four Black Hawk helicopters swooped in low over the palm trees, heading from the border with Iraq formed by the Euphrates River.

    It was late afternoon. The light was fading and the chill of the desert winter night was setting in. The helicopters, following their leader in a disciplined arc, hovered just above the one-storey concrete and mud homes of the village of Sukariyeh before the attack began.

    Two of them landed next to a ramshackle building site and uniformed men hit the ground firing. Two other helicopters gave aerial cover.

    “To begin with I thought they were Syrian helicopters, but then I saw eight or nine soldiers armed to the teeth. They carried big black M16s,” said Mohammad al-Ali, the farmer. His land lies closest to the site where an American commando squad last week staged an unprecedented strike in Syrian territory.

    The guns were the clue to their identity – only Americans or their allies carry M16s; the Syrian army has Russian-made AK47s.

    Ali said the troops raced to a compound of new homes, where men of the al-Hamad family were working. “Even before they ran from their helicopters they began to shoot at the workers,” Ali said. “The whole operation took 10 to 15 minutes and they left behind seven corpses.”

    According to one eyewitness, the Americans took two men, alive or dead, back with them.

    The Americans’ target was an Al-Qaeda commander identified as Badran Turki Hashim al-Mazidih, also known as Abu Ghadiya, an Iraqi-born terrorist in his late twenties. It is believed that he died in the firefight and his body was removed.

    The Syrian regime immediately denounced the raid for violating its sovereignty, froze high-level diplomatic relations with Washington and protested at the United Nations in a ritualised show of anger.

    However, sources in Washington last week revealed to The Sunday Times an intriguingly different background to the events in Sukariyeh.

    According to one source, the special forces operation had taken place with the full cooperation of the Syrian intelligence services.

    “Immediately after 9/11, Syrian intelligence cooperation was remarkable,” said the Washington source. “Then ties were broken off, but they have resumed recently.”

    Abu Ghadiya was feared by the Syrians as an agent of Islamic fundamentalism who was hostile to the secular regime in Damascus. It would be expedient for Syria if America would eliminate him.

    The threat to the Syrian government has made the regime of President Bashar al-Assad jittery. In September a car bomb exploded in Damascus near its intelligence headquarters. Many of the 17 victims were Shi’ite Muslim pilgrims at a nearby shrine.

    The Washington source said the Americans regularly communicate with the Syrians through a back channel that runs through Syria’s air force intelligence, the Idarat al-Mukhabarat al-Jawiyya.

    In the time-honoured tradition of covert US operations in the Middle East, this one seems to have gone spectacularly wrong. The Syrians, who had agreed to turn a blind eye to a supposedly quiet “snatch and grab” raid, could not keep the lid on a firefight in which so many people had died.

    The operation should have been fast and bloodless. According to the sources, Syrian intelligence tipped off the Americans about Abu Ghadiya’s whereabouts. US electronic intelligence then tracked his exact location, possibly by tracing his satellite telephone, and the helicopters were directed to him. They were supposed to kidnap him and take him to Iraq for questioning.

    According to defence sources, when the four US helicopters approached the Syrian border, they were detected by Syrian radar. Air force headquarters in Damascus was asked for permission to intercept.

    After an Israeli airstrike against a suspected nuclear reactor in the same region last year, Syrian air defence has been on high alert. The request was turned down by senior officers because the American operation was expected.

    It is not clear what went wrong, but it is believed that the helicopters were spotted by the militants on their final approach and a gun battle broke out. That is supported by an account from a local tribal leader, who said a rocket-propelled grenade had been launched from the compound at the helicopter. The firefight blew the cover on a supposedly covert operation.

    Ninety minutes after the raid, according to a local tribal leader, agents of the feared Mukhabarat, the Syrian intelligence service, flooded into the village. “They threatened us that if anyone said anything about what happened in this area, their family members would die,” he said.

    Local residents were happy to identify the seven dead villagers as Daoud al-Hamad, who owned the land, and his four sons, who were helping him to build the new houses, along with the site watchman and his cousin. The area is isolated and poor. Locals speak with Iraqi accents, as their tribe extends across the border, and smuggling is the most lucrative local profession.

    The tribal leader revealed that everyone in the village knew that “jihadis” – extremist Islamic fighters – were operating in the area.

    “You could often hear shooting from close to the border, which was not clashes but fighters training,” he said.

    “There are areas along the border where the Mukhabarat doesn’t let people go and that’s where I think the jihadis are. The areas are some of the best ways into Iraq.”

    Despite the furore over the raid, there can be little doubt that the Americans will celebrate the death of Abu Ghadiya, whom they described as the “most prominent” smuggler for Al-Qaeda in Iraq. He allegedly ran guns, money and foreign fighters along the “rat lines” that lead across the desert into northern Iraq and sometimes led raids himself.

    In February the US Treasury Department identified Abu Ghadiya as a “high value” Al-Qaeda commander in charge of smuggling “money, weapons, terrorists and other resources . . . to Al-Qaeda in Iraq”.

    It described him as a Sunni Muslim born in the late 1970s in Mosul and said he had been an aide to the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed in 2006.

    Damascus may have other motives for its cooperation with Washington. Some diplomats in the capital think the regime would like to stage its own cross-border strikes against terror groups in Lebanon, which it sees as a threat.

    “Syrian cross-border incursions into northern Lebanon in pursuit of Fatah al–Islam [a group affiliated with Al-Qaeda] are plausible,” said one source. They may be relying on the United States to turn a blind eye to do so.

    American officials refused to apologise for the botched raid on Syria. They said the administration was determined to operate under a definition of self-defence that provided for strikes on terrorist targets in any sovereign state.

    For Al-Qaeda militants, the safe haven of Syria will be looking decidedly cooler as winter sets in.
    No One Knows Everything. Only Together May We Find The Truth JG


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