Monday, October 27, 2008
US choppers attack Syrian village near Iraqi border
US official says helicopter raid that killed eight people, four of them children, targeted network of al-Qaeda fighters passing through insecure border into Iraq. 'We are taking matters into our own hands,' official says; Syria condemns attack
US military helicopters attacked an area along Syria's border with Iraq Sunday, killing eight people, the Syrian government said, condemning what it called "serious aggression." The raid, which a US military official in Washington confirmed, indicated the desert frontier between the two countries remains a key battleground 5 and a half years into the Iraq war.
The US official said the attack targeted elements of a robust foreign fighter logistics network and that due to Syrian inaction the US was now "taking matters into our own hands."
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 United States and Iraq to protest the strike.
The attack occurred just before sundown in an area of farms and brick factories about eight kilometers 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 statement said.
Local residents told The Associated Press by telephone that two helicopters carrying US soldiers raided the village, killing eight people and wounding five others. One of the witnesses said five of the dead were from a single family. SANA's report added that US soldiers disembarked and stormed a building in the village.
The US military official said the special forces raid targeted elements of a network that sends fighters from North Africa and elsewhere in the Middle East to Syria, where elements of the Syrian military are in league with al-Qaeda and other fighters.
Syria holds US, Iraq responsible
The Syrian government condemned the attack, holding both the US and Iraq responsible. "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."
A senior Israeli security official told Ynet that Israel was not involved in the attack. Earlier, Israeli intelligence sources postulated that the attack had targeted al-Qaeda agents.
US attacks on terror hubs are not an uncommon occurrence in Iraq, but it is the first time such an onslaught has taken place in Syria.
The area 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 insurgents seized Qaim in April 2005, forcing US Marines to recapture the town the following month in heavy fighting.
Syria's interior minister, Bassam Abdul-Majid, told a security meeting in the Syrian capital in April that it had stepped up measures along its border with Iraq, setting up fixed checkpoints and patrols to prevent insurgent infiltration and smuggling.
Hanan Greenberg contributed to this report