Special Forces in Syria Damascus Outraged by US Cross-Border Raid

Syria has accused US special forces of launching a raid across the Iraqi border Sunday that has left at least eight dead. A US military official confirmed the attack. The target appears to have been an insurgent network that smuggles fighters and weapons across the border into Iraq.

By in Beirut

The US is accused of having launched a cross-border raid into Syria that has left at least eight dead.

The US is accused of having launched a cross-border raid into Syria that has left at least eight dead.

Attack helicopters that seemed to emerge at low altitude out of thin air at dusk and shoot a village to pieces. Soldiers jumping out of helicopters and raiding a farmhouse, killing up to eight people. The descriptions of the American attack Sunday in remote southern Syria provided by official sources have all the hallmarks of a clandestine special forces raid. The US soldiers are said to have had a house in the Abu Kamal region in their crosshairs.

A physician working in a nearby clinic claims that 11 people had been brought there: seven dead and four wounded. The state-controlled Syrian media reports eight dead and claims that four children were among the victims and that, following the attack, the helicopters left Syrian airspace and returned into Iraq.

So far, it has been difficult to determine what really happened in the tiny village lying just eight kilometers (five miles) from the border. Syria's ruling regime is monitoring press coverage of the episode and is disseminating its own version of the event via state-controlled media.

'We Are Taking Matters into Our Own Hands'

On Sunday, official US sources were keeping tight lips about the episode, and a spokesman for the US military in Baghdad would only say that the episode was under investigation. The Associated Press cited an anonymous US military official in Washington as confirming the attack. According to the official, the special forces attack was aimed at a network sending foreign fighters from North Africa and the Middle East to Syria, from where they then were then smuggled into Iraq. "We are taking matters into our own hands," the official stated.

Should the attack be confirmed, it would be the first attack carried out on Syrian territory by US soldiers based in Iraq.

The Syrian government launched protests against the attack almost immediately after the incident and summoned the US charge d'affaires to the Foreign Ministry in Damascus on Sunday evening. A representative of the Iraqi embassy was also summoned to the discussions.

"This is a serious matter, a blatant escalation," political analyst Thabet Salem told the al Jazeera television network. "The Syrian government is very worried." According to Salem, who often comments on political issues in Syria for Western media sources, the major issue regards why a "brazen raid" of this type was carried out at this particular point in time.

Syria and US Trade Border Accusations

In recent months, the governments in Washington and Damascus have actually been engaged in a rapprochement, and the times when the US would accuse Syria of belonging to the "axis of evil" seemed to be part of the past. In September, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mualem traveled to the US capital, where he was welcomed by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Europe had also been strengthening its ties with Syria over the last few months, and French President Nicolas Sarkozyhad even made a state visit to Damascus.

The alleged raid was presumably aimed at terror networks operating in Iraq. Just last Thursday, US Maj. Gen. John Kelly, the commander of US forces in western Iraq, had said that large numbers of insurgents were continuing to infiltrate Iraq from Syria and that additional measures would be taken to strengthen Iraq's border with Syria. The Iraqi border crossing at Qaim, which is not far from the area where the alleged attack took place, has served as a major crossing point for fighters as well as weapons and money being funnelled to insurgent groups composed of radical Sunnis.

In the past, the US has accused Syria on a number of occasions of lax border controls as well as of having indirectly supported terror attacks originating in Syria by having done nothing to counter them. Washington has repeatedly demanded that Syria improve its border controls in an effort to suppress the smuggling of arms and fighters. Syria has countered that it was impossible to completely seal a 600-kilometer (370-mile) border characterized by several long stretches of desert.

According to its own estimates, Syria has 12,000 soldiers stationed along its border. Damascus has complained that neither Iraqi nor US forces have done their part to patrol the border and that the border is often unmonitored from the Iraqi side.

With material from wire sources


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