By Ellen Knickmeyer and Ernesto LondoÃ±o
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, October 27, 2008; 7:17 AM
CAIRO, Oct. 27 -- An apparent U.S. helicopter raid into Syria on Sunday killed eight people, prompting a sharp condemnation from Damascus and a defense of the cross-border operation from an Iraqi official who said it targeted a known group of terrorists.
The reported operation in al-Boukamal, roughly six miles from the border with Iraq, occurred about 4:45 p.m., the Syrian Arab News Agency reported, citing an unnamed government source.
Without confirming U.S. involvement, Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the group targeted in the raid was responsible for attacks in Iraq, including one recently that killed 13 police in an Iraqi village near the Syrian border, the Reuters news service reported.
"Iraq had asked Syria to hand over this group which uses Syria as a base for its terrorist activities," Dabbagh said.
But Syrian officials said that only civilians were killed, and on Sunday summoned the top U.S. diplomat in the country, Charge d'Affaires Maura Connelly, to notify her of "Syria's condemnation and complaint of this dangerous aggression," the Syrian Arab News Agency reported.
U.S. attacks inside Syria are extremely rare, though the U.S. military has stepped up security along Iraq's border with Syria in recent months to stem the traffic of fighters and weapons into Iraq. U.S. officials say many insurgents, particularly suicide bombers, arrive in Iraq via the Syrian border.
The U.S. military in Baghdad did not respond to an inquiry about the reported operation. A spokeswoman for the State Department, Joanne Moore, declined to comment.
But the Associated Press quoted an unnamed U.S. military official as saying the Special Forces raid had targeted a network of foreign fighters that regularly crosses the border. "We are taking matters into our own hands," the official told the Associated Press, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The Syrian press report said pilots opened fire on a building under construction. It provided names for three of the people it said were killed. A man identified as Daoud Mohammad al-Abdullah and his four sons were among the dead, the agency said. The others were identified as Ahmad Khalefa, Ali Abbas and his wife.
"The aggressive helicopters later left for the Iraqi lands," the report said.
Syria also called on the Iraqi government to launch an investigation into the incident and condemned the United States's use of Iraq as a launchpad for military operations in Syria.
"If it was an Al Qaeda house they should have shared their information with Syria before implementing the law of the jungle," Makdissi said. Syria had 10,000 troops deployed along the Iraq border, he said. "We are doing our very best . . . when America secures its border with Mexico 100 percent," then Americans can come and demand the same of Syria, he said.
Syrian state television Monday showed bullet casings littering the ground at what it said was the scene of the alleged U.S. raid.
The U.S. military estimates up to 90 percent of foreign fighters entering Iraq do so through Syria. Its conclusion is based in part on a records-cache allegedly belonging to Al Qaeda in Iraq that U.S. forces seized in the Iraqi town of Sinjar, near Syria, in summer 2007. The captured records noted the routes of hundreds of fighters through networks of travel "coordinators" in Syria, according to a July report by the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. military academy at West Point, which is translating and analyzing the seized records.
"The Syrian government has willingly ignored, and in some cases may have assisted, foreign fighters headed to Iraq," the civilian authors of the report for the West Point center concluded.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, the commander of U.S. forces in western Iraq called Syria "problematic," and blamed fighters based in Syria for one cross-border raid in May.
"We do know that there are operatives that live, we believe, certainly -- let me say, the Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi intelligence forces feel that al Qaeda operatives and others operate, live pretty openly on the Syrian side. And periodically we know that they try to come across," the commander, Marine Maj. Gen. John Kelly, said.
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President Bush and Rumsfeld are sitting in a bar.
A guy walks in and asks the barman, "Isn't that Bush and Rumsfeld sitting over there?"
The bartender says, "Yep, that's them."
So the guy walks over and says, "Wow, this is a real honor! What are you guys doing in here?" Bush says, "We're planning WW III."
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Bush says, "Well, we're going to kill 140 million Muslims and one blonde with big boobs."
The guy exclaimed, "A blonde with big boobs? Why kill a blonde with big tits?"
Bush turns to Rumsfeld and says, "See, I told you NO ONE cares about the 140 million Muslims"
you don't get what you wish for ~ you get what you work for