Albert Aji / AP & Alex Spillius / The Telegraph & Al Jazeera.net – 2008-10-26 20:46:50
US Special Forces Launch Rare Attack Inside Syria<
US Special Forces launch rare attack on Syrian territory targeting fighters streaming to Iraq
Albert Aji / The Associated Press
DAMASCUS, Syria (October 26, 2008) — US 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 US 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 struck 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 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.
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.
Another witness said four helicopters were used in the attack.
Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, there have been some instances in which American troops crossed areas of the 370-mile Syria-Iraq border in pursuit of militants, or warplanes violated Syria’s airspace. But Sunday’s raid was the first conducted by aircraft and on such a large scale. In May 2005, Syria said American fire killed a border guard.
Syria’s Foreign Ministry said it summoned the US and Iraqi charges d’affaires 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.
Syrian state television late Sunday aired footage that showed blood stains on the floor of a site under construction, with wooden beams used to mold concrete strewn on the ground. Akram Hameed, one of the injured, told the television he was fishing in the Euphrates and saw four helicopters coming from the border area under a heavy blanket of fire.
“One of the helicopters landed in an agricultural area and eight members disembarked,” the man in his 40s said. “The firing lasted about 15 minutes and when I tried to leave the area on my motorcycle, I was hit by a bullet in the right arm about 20 meters (yards) away,” he said.
The injured wife of the building’s guard, in bed in hospital with a tube in her nose, told Syria TV that two helicopters landed and two remained in the air during the attack.
“I ran to bring my child who was going to his father and I was hit,” she said. The TV did not identify her by name.
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 Qaim Mayor Farhan al-Mahalawi.
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 US 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.
On Thursday, US 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 US 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 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 US 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 US 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 US 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 US 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 US military in Baghdad did not immediately respond to a request for comment after Sunday’s raid.
Associated Press reporter Pamela Hess in Washington and Sam F. Ghattas in Beirut contributed to this report.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Copyright © 2008 ABC News Internet Ventures
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Syria: US Helicopters Attack Syrian Farm, Leaving Dead
Alex Spillius / The Telegraph
WASHINGTON (October 27, 2008) — US military helicopters attacked a farm suspected of housing militants along Syria’s border with Iraq on Sunday, killing eight people, in what the Syrian government denounced as “serious aggression.”
The raid was confirmed by a US official in Washington, who said it targeted elements of a network supplying foreign fighters to Iraq from North Africa and the Middle East. A government statement carried by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (Sana) condemned the raid and said the Foreign Ministry had summoned the charges d’affaires of the US and Iraq to protest against the strike.
The attack by US special forces occurred just before sunset in an area of farms and brick factories about five miles inside the Syrian border.
Four helicopters flying along the Euphrates River struck the Sukkariyeh Farm near the town of Abu Kamal, the Syrian government said. The helicopters attacked a civilian building under construction, firing on the workers inside and killing a number of civilians, including four children, the Syrian statement said.
The US official told the Associated Press that while there had been considerable success dealing with “rat lines” conveying militants into Iraq near the Euphrates River, the part of the network involving elements of the Syrian army had 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. “We are taking matters into our own hands.”
The White House in August approved similar special forces raids across the border of Pakistan to target al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives. At least one has been carried out but others were stopped by warning fire from Pakistani troops.
A resident of the nearby village of Hwijeh said some of the aircraft in the attack landed and disgorged troops who fired on a building. At least one of the dead was a construction worker, he said.
“Syria condemns this aggression and holds the American forces responsible for this aggression and all its consequences,” the government statement said. “Syria also calls on the Iraqi government to shoulder its responsibilities and launch an immediate investigation into this serious violation and prevent the use of Iraqi territory for aggression against Syria.”
The flow of foreign fighters into Iraq has been cut to an estimated 20 a month, a senior US army intelligence official said in July, a 50 per cent decline from six months earlier. The raid echoed Israeli air strikes last year which targeted a suspected Syrian nuclear facility.
Syria Accuses US of Deadly Raid
(October 26, 2008) — Syria has accused the United States of killing at least eight people in a helicopter raid in the country’s east, close to the border with Iraq. The government condemned the act as “serious aggression” and summoned the senior US and Iraqi envoys to Damascus to protest against the raid, the Syrian Arab news agency (Sana) reported on Sunday.
A US military official speaking on condition of anonymity told The Associated Press in Washington that the raid by US special forces were targeting al-Qaeda-linked foreign fighters moving through Syria into Iraq.
“We are taking matters into our own hands,” AP quoted him as saying.
Syrian state television said American helicopters raided the village of Sukariya, which lies 550km northeast of Damascus, before flying back towards Iraqi territory. “Four American helicopters violated Syrian airspace around 4:45pm local time [13:45 GMT] on Sunday,” state television and Sana news agency reported.
During the raids, two of the helicopters landed and dropped off eight US soldiers, who then entered a house, Syrian media reported. “American soldiers … attacked a civilian building under construction and fired at workmen inside, causing eight deaths,” the reports said.
The government said civilians were among the dead, including four children.
Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, there have been some instances in which American troops crossed areas of the 600-km border in pursuit of fighters, or aircraft violating Syria’s airspace. But Sunday’s raid, if confirmed, would be the first conducted by aircraft and on such a large scale.
Akram Hameed, one of the injured who said he was fishing in the Euphrates river, told Syrian television he saw four helicopters coming from the border area under a heavy blanket of fire.
“One of the helicopters landed in an agricultural area and eight members disembarked,” the man in his 40s said. “The firing lasted about 15 minutes and when I tried to leave the area on my motorcycle, I was hit by a bullet in the right arm about 20 metres away,” he said.
Syria TV showed what it said was the injured wife of the building’s guard, in bed in hospital with a tube in her nose, saying that two helicopters landed and two remained in the air during the attack.
The alleged attack 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.
US Major-General John Kelly said on Thursday that 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.”
However, Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Hughes, a spokesman for US forces in western Iraq, said the US division that operates on the Iraqi side of the border was not involved in Sunday’s incident.
A Pentagon spokesman in Washington said he had no immediate information on the reported strike but would check further while the White House and CIA declined to comment.
The US and the US-backed Iraqi government frequently say Damascus is not doing enough to stop anti-US fighters, including those from al-Qaeda, from crossing the border into Iraq.
The area targeted by Sunday’s raid lies close to the Iraqi border city of Qaim, which in the past has been a crossing point for fighters, weapons and money used to fuel the armed Sunni opposition against Iraq’s Shia-led government.
Thabet Salem, a political analyst, told Al Jazeera that the US had appeared to have taken the building workers for infiltrators.
“The Syrian government will be very worried because from the beginning of the Iraq war in 2003 until now, nothing has happened [in Syria]. There have maybe been a few cases, but nothing like eight people killed inside Syria,” he said. “It will raise questions as to why this is happening at this moment – towards the end of the current US administration.
“Syria has deployed large numbers [of security staff] and they have checkpoints every four kilometres along the border. The Syrians have, according to my information, stopped five or six thousand people trying to cross the Syria-Iraq border throughout the last few years.”
The raid comes 10 days after Iraqi forces arrested seven Syrian “terrorist” suspects at a checkpoint near the city of Baquba, a base for al-Qaeda fighters, the Iraqi government said. But last month, Jalal Talabani, Iraq’s president, told his US counterpart George Bush that Iran and Syria no longer pose a problem to Iraqi security.
Syria’s first ambassador to Iraq in 26 years took up his post in Baghdad this month, bringing more than two decades of discord between the nations to an end.
In September, Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, said she had met Walid Muallem, Syria’s foreign minister, to discuss Middle East peace efforts. Syrian and American diplomats said the talks touched on Iraq, Lebanon and Middle East peace negotiations.
Al Jazeera and agencies
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Comments on US Attack
The Right Student
The BBC, Haaretz, Reuters and other news agencies are reporting that helicopters, possibly of American origin, have entered Syria and carried out a military strike.
If this turns out to be true, then it could be the straw that breaks the Camel’s back, as far as the Middle East goes. This is all the more disturbing as Syria has been undertaking peace negotiations with Israel, and has made various conciliatory gestures towards Lebanon. I can’t see it doing John McCain any good, either. It paints him into a corner, as he can’t really come out as an ‘anti-war’ candidate, can he? And really, I don’t think Americans have the stomach for another war, at the moment.
Very disturbing times. Especially as Hezbollah is sitting on Israel’s northern border, just waiting for an excuse to attack.
Good. I’m glad the US attacked. Two things.
1. What hasn’t been in the mainstream news lately is that Syria has been massing thousands of troops near Israel and fortifying positions in Southern Lebanon for over a year now. Syria can hardly start crying wolf, and wine about someone “upping the stakes” considering they’ve been putting themselves on a warfooting against Israel for months now. With Iran boldly arming Hezbollah to the teeth. Its clear who wants what over there and that Syria and Iran are prepared to go to blows with Israel if need be. In my opinion, the only thing standing in their way is the presence of the US, which is on its way out in the region.
2. 2. For the US to go after a target inside Syria like that, it must have been something big. The operation wouldn’t have been taken on lightly, and the benefit of engaging in this attack must have been seen as too important to let slip away. Reminds me of Israel’s strike on Syria’s nuclear complex that they still claim never existed and how much secrecy there was following that attack.
” This is all the more disturbing as Syria has been undertaking peace negotiations with Israel, and has made various conciliatory gestures towards Lebanon.”
Israel and Syria have been negotiating “peace” with one another since the end of the Yom Kippur war in 1973, and their current peace talks are hardly more impressive than ones that have been held in the past. I think it is, as Americans say, “Just a big dog and pony show.”
Hezbollah is more powerful than even before the recent war. Seems like the usual Middle East BS to me.