US attack on Syria has many baffled

The US Special Forces raid into Syria on October 26 that left eight civilians dead has further strained an already tense relationship between Washington and Damascus. MENASSAT looks at what is being said about this raid on the brink of the US presidential election.
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A Syrian man holds a sign that reads 'We will not bow for America. No, No, No for America' during a funeral for people killed in the US military raid. © AFP

BEIRUT, October 28, 2008 (MENASSAT) – For two days, Western and Arab media had reported extensively on the attack by US Special Forces that killed eight civilians inside the Syrian border on October 26.

With little official information except what the Syrian government was providing, the United States broke its silence yesterday claiming the operation was a successful strike on a top al-Qaeda operative preparing to carry out attacks in Iraq.

It was the first US attack on Syrian soil, and Syria reacted furiously with one Syrian diplomat calling it an outrageous crime.

America says, Syria says

"This administration ... has proved to be irrational and they have no respect for international law or human rights. We expect a clarification, and of course Syria reserves the right to respond accordingly in the proper way," Syria's press attaché in London, Jihad Makdissi, told the BBC.

US officials said Syrian inaction in preventing foreign fighters from entering Iraq and actionable intelligence about the location of suspected Iraqi insurgent leader Badran Turki Al-Mazidih, aka Abu Ghadiyah, prompted the strike. U.S. officials said Abu Ghadiyah was killed in the raid.

Makdissi told the BBC, "If they have any proof of any insurgency, instead of applying the law of the jungle and penetrating, unprovoked, a sovereign country, they should come to the Syrians first and share this information."

Syria's state-run news agency SANA (Syrian Arab News Agency) reported that the attack occurred at the Sukkariyeh Farm some 8 kilometers inside Syria near the Iraqi border. SANA reported that four helicopters were involved in the attack, which occurred at around 5 p.m. on October 26.

A Syrian website posted video showing what it claimed are U.S. helicopters over Syrian territory, and state television aired footage on Sunday of where the fighting took place.

A senior US official said that all the people killed in the assault were militants, and that women and children living with the militants had been left unharmed.

One of the injured, Akram Hameed, 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 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."

Alternative perspectives

This attack follows an Israeli attack on a suspected Syrian nuclear facility in September of 2007, and it comes just days after the US commander in western Iraq, Major General John Kelly, said that US forces were bolstering their presence on the Syrian border because it is an "uncontrolled" gateway for fighters entering Iraq.

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

Speculation about the success of the US military raid has been all over the alternative press.

Josh Landis, co-director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, wrote on his blog Syria Comment that "with the raid, the Bush administration may have been giving Syria a parting shot for its unwillingness to comply with intelligence-sharing and other US demands."

"Evidently, there are real issues at the border and [US commander for Iraq and Afghanistan General David] Petraeus has been warning the Syrians that they must do more. Satellite intelligence probably picked up smugglers, which were interpreted to be al-Qaeda. Quite possibly these poor people killed in the raid were a family of smugglers."
Landis linked the cross-border attack to what seems to be "a broader pattern of the Bush administration initiating cross-border attacks into countries it is not officially at war with. The recent attacks in Northwestern Pakistan are a case in point."

Intelligence gathering between the US and Syria was broken off in 2005 after the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, a US ally. The US has blamed Syria for Hariri's death, and has been instrumental in pushing through a United Nations tribunal to bring his killers to justice.

Meanwhile, Iraq has been very critical of the US raid on its behalf.

An Iraqi government spokesman said Baghdad "rejects" the raid. He added that Iraq does not want its territory to be used for attacks on neighboring countries. 

Iraqi president Jalal Talabani told president Bush in September president Bush in September that Iran and Syria no longer pose a problem with regards to the longstanding U.S. claim that they were assisting the deadly unrest in Iraq.