"The helicopter-borne attack into Syria," The Times reported, "was by far the boldest by American commandos in the five years since the United States invaded Iraq and began to condemn Syria’s role in stoking the Iraqi insurgency. The timing was startling, not least because American officials had praised Syria in recent months for its efforts to halt traffic across the border."
The Bush administration called it self-defense--an expansive definition of the term that draws its justification from the notion, not supported by international law, that those who attack American soldiers anywhere may be pursued and attacked in turn. (It's not supported in law because the extension of that argument is that the Pentagon would be justified in attacking Kurdish militants in, say, Turkey, Palestinian militants in Lebanon, or al-Qaeda militants in the United Arab Emirates, all countries that have hosted those militants; and because there's a difference between commando raids that demolish imminent threats and commando raids that target gun-runners.)
The attack took place at the Sukkariyeh farm in Abu Kamal, a fertile city on the Euphrates River in the Syrian desert. Four helicopters attacked a building under construction. Nine of the occupants were killed, most of them civilians. The U.S. military had this story:
American officials who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the secrecy of the mission said the mission had been mounted rapidly over the weekend on orders from the Central Intelligence Agency when the location of the suspected leader of the insurgent group, an Iraqi known as Abu Ghadiya, was confirmed. About two dozen American commandos in specially equipped Black Hawk helicopters swooped into the village of Sukkariyeh near the Iraqi border just before 5 p.m., and fought a brief gun battle with several militants, including Mr. Ghadiya, the officials said. It was unclear whether Mr. Ghadiya died near his tent on the battlefield or after he was taken into American custody, one senior American official said. One United States official described Mr. Ghadiya as Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia’s “most prominent” smuggler of foreign operatives crossing the Syrian border into Iraq, and in February the Treasury Department named him as one of four major figures in that group who were living in Syria. The official said that Mr. Ghadiya was in his late 20s and came from a family of smugglers in Anbar Province in western Iraq. He was also suspected of having led an attack in May against a police station in western Iraq that killed 11 Iraqi officers, an American official said.The facts as given, of course, cannot be verified. More worrisome in the equation, the Times reports:
Together with a similar American commando raid into Pakistan seven weeks ago, the operation on Sunday appeared to reflect an intensifying effort by the White House to find a way during the administration’s waning months to attack militants even beyond the borders of Iraq and Afghanistan, where the United States is now at war. Administration officials declined to say whether the emerging application of self-defense could lead to strikes against camps inside Iran that have been used to train Shiite “Special Groups” that have fought with the American military and Iraqi security forces.Wagging the dog is not the way to forge more effective policy in the Bush administration's dying days. But it is a way to force the issue--to rehearse for a possible attack on Iran, or to throw a blast of a wrench into the American election by manufacturing a crisis that suddenly, lo and behold, makes John McCain seem like the America-in-crisis the country needs. This is more than playing with fire. It's toying with war crimes.