US raid killed Syrian al Qaeda cell leader

A US counterterrorism official said Monday, Oct. 27, that American special forces killed the head of a Syrian network that funneled fighters, weapons and cash in to Iraq when they raided Abu Kemal 7 km inside Syria Sunday. The unnamed official said the raid targeted the home of Abu Ghadiyah, leader of a key cell of foreign fighters in Iraq. A villager said the US force grabbed two men and took them away by helicopter when they flew back to Iraq.
An American military official said earlier that the cross-border raid by helicopter-borne special forces at al Sukkariya near Abu Kemal in N. Syria Sunday, Oct. 26 targeted “the foreign fighter network” that travels through Syria into Iraq. In the first US comment on the incident, the anonymous spokesman hinted at more cross-border action when he said: “We are taking matters in our own hands.”
He spoke shortly after Damascus summoned the US and Iraqi envoys to protest the “serious aggression” in which 8 “civilians, including children” were killed and 14 wounded.
Three days earlier, US commander in western Iraq, Maj. Gen. John Kelly, called the Syrian border “an uncontrolled gateway” for fighters entering Iraq. He described the borders with Saudi Arabia and Jordan as “fairly tight” and referred to US forces’ success in shutting down the “rat lines” in Iraq with help from governments in North Africa. “The one piece of the puzzle where we have not shown success on is the nexus in Syria,” Gen. Kelly said.
debkafile‘s counter-terror sources report he was referring to help from the Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian governments, as well as Western Europe countries hosting large North African migrants, in drying up the stream of al Qaeda’s recruits for Iraq. However, Syrian president Bashar Assad has frustrated years of US effort to shut down the network operating out of his territory.
debkafile‘s military sources report: This was not the first US military incursion of Syria. Previous US strikes on Syrian soil in 2004 and 2005 targeted al Qaeda exit points to Iraq and involved bombardments and clashes with Syrian border units.
These US attacks were discontinued for three years. Sunday’s operation was an extension of the US-Iraqi offensive to purge the northern Iraqi town of Mosul and northern Syria of al Qaeda elements, the jihadists’ last two strong bastions in the region.
According to eye witnesses, 8 US troops dropped by at least 2 helicopters stormed a farm house in Sukkariya and killed 8 people before flying back to Iraq. Damascus announced it held US forces responsible for “this aggression and all its repercussions.” It called on the Iraqi government to launch an immediate investigation into “this serious violation and prevent the use of Iraqi territory for aggression against Syria.”
Al Qaeda fighters recently captured by the US military in and around the northern Iraqi city of Mosul revealed the unabated flow of arms, fighters, cash and explosives from Syria to Iraq. The discovery belied Syrian foreign minister Walid Muallem’s assurance to US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice when they met in New York in September that Damascus had halted this traffic.
Abu Kemal is located opposite the al Qaim region of Iraqi Anbar. For most of the five-year Iraq war, it was al Qaeda’s main logistics base for the jihadists fighting in Anbar. Recently this province, finally cleared of terrorists, was handed over to Iraqi forces. Washington is determined not to allow the Syria rat line to destroy one of the great US achievements of the war.
Asked if the incident was compatible with Israel’s talks with Syria, Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni commented: Damascus must stop aiding al Qaeda as well two other terrorist groups, Hizballah and Hamas. debkafile‘s political sources note that the northern Syrian operation bears strongly on the US presidential campaign 10 days before voting. Both candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain, will no doubt comment and if the attacks continue and meet with Syrian reprisal, they could become a focal campaign theme.
US cross-border incursions from Afghanistan firing missiles from drones at Taliban and al Qaeda havens in Pakistan are ongoing. The latest attack took place Sunday night killing up to 20 insurgents.

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