Update: American attack in Syria netted Al-Qaeda commander with Syrias approval

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Update: American attack in Syria netted Al-Qaeda commander with Syrias approval

The attack by four helicopters on the Syrian settlement netted a wanted man, described as "one of the most prominent foreign fighter facilitators in the region. There was another story saying they removed two people from the house as well, but that's not mentioned here.

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States mounted a rare cross-border raid into Syria to kill the head of a smuggling network feeding arms and foreign fighters to Iraq, a US official said Monday, signaling a more aggressive approach to insurgent sanctuaries.

The official identified the man targeted in Sunday's raid as Abu Ghadiya, describing him as "one of the most prominent foreign fighter facilitators in the region."

"The operation was successful," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "He is believed to have been killed."

The official provided few details about the raid itself, but did not dispute Syrian accounts that helicopter-borne troops assaulted a site in the village of Al-Sukkiraya, eight kilometers (five miles) from the border.

The official Syrian press said eight civilians, including four children, were killed in the raid. Syrian state television showed a construction site with bloodstains on the ground, and bodies in a morgue.

The Syrian toll could not be independently verified, and White House and Pentagon officials would not comment.

US cross-border raids into Syria have been extremely rare, if not unprecedented, despite tension and occasional clashes over the years along the long open border between Iraq and Syria.

The raid was also striking in that it came with little more than a week to go before the US presidential elections.

But the US official suggested the timing was due to the fleeting nature of the target. "Look, when you've got an opportunity, an important one, you take it," the official said.

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By netchicken: posted on 28-10-2008

What should have been a covert quiet operation to remove an individual that both the Syrians and Americans didn't like failed because of the firefight that left seven bodies. Although the Al Qaeda commander was killed, as per the plan, the publicity of the attack was unwanted by both sides.

Despite the furore over the raid, there can be little doubt that the Americans will celebrate the death of Abu Ghadiya, whom they described as the “most prominent” smuggler for Al-Qaeda in Iraq. He allegedly ran guns, money and foreign fighters along the “rat lines” that lead across the desert into northern Iraq and sometimes led raids himself.

According to one eyewitness, the Americans took two men, alive or dead, back with them.

The Americans’ target was an Al-Qaeda commander identified as Badran Turki Hashim al-Mazidih, also known as Abu Ghadiya, an Iraqi-born terrorist in his late twenties. It is believed that he died in the firefight and his body was removed.

According to one source, the special forces operation had taken place with the full cooperation of the Syrian intelligence services.

Abu Ghadiya was feared by the Syrians as an agent of Islamic fundamentalism who was hostile to the secular regime in Damascus. It would be expedient for Syria if America would eliminate him.

The threat to the Syrian government has made the regime of President Bashar al-Assad jittery. In September a car bomb exploded in Damascus near its intelligence headquarters. Many of the 17 victims were Shi’ite Muslim pilgrims at a nearby shrine.

The Washington source said the Americans regularly communicate with the Syrians through a back channel that runs through Syria’s air force intelligence, the Idarat al-Mukhabarat al-Jawiyya.

In the time-honoured tradition of covert US operations in the Middle East, this one seems to have gone spectacularly wrong. The Syrians, who had agreed to turn a blind eye to a supposedly quiet “snatch and grab” raid, could not keep the lid on a firefight in which so many people had died.

The operation should have been fast and bloodless. According to the sources, Syrian intelligence tipped off the Americans about Abu Ghadiya’s whereabouts. US electronic intelligence then tracked his exact location, possibly by tracing his satellite telephone, and the helicopters were directed to him. They were supposed to kidnap him and take him to Iraq for questioning.

According to defence sources, when the four US helicopters approached the Syrian border, they were detected by Syrian radar. Air force headquarters in Damascus was asked for permission to intercept.

After an Israeli airstrike against a suspected nuclear reactor in the same region last year, Syrian air defence has been on high alert. The request was turned down by senior officers because the American operation was expected.

It is not clear what went wrong, but it is believed that the helicopters were spotted by the militants on their final approach and a gun battle broke out. That is supported by an account from a local tribal leader, who said a rocket-propelled grenade had been launched from the compound at the helicopter. The firefight blew the cover on a supposedly covert operation.

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By netchicken: posted on 2-11-2008

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