Here are two different stories about the same news item– namely, the report that a Syrian general who was giving a tour of their border security efforts told reporters that Syrian troops have been fired upon on more than one occasion, and killed on at least one, by U.S. troops.
Both articles touch upon most of the same elements: that Syria has made overt efforts at border security and is showing them off to dispel accusations to the contrary; that the U.S. was willing and ready to do whatever it felt necessary in that area in pursuit of its anti-terror aims; and things are hot at the Iraq/Syria border. This last point is addressed more in the Telegraph (UK) article than in the USA Today/AP article.
For what it’s worth, the AP writer apparently was unable to pin down the Syrian general’s full name, and, given that the Telegraph does have a full name, I’m inclined to think they have it right. Which one has his rank right is anyone’s guess.
Syria accuses US of launching lethal raids over its borders
By Harry de Quetteville in Baghouz
Syria has accused the United States of launching lethal military raids into its territory from Iraq, escalating the diplomatic crisis between the two countries as the Bush administration seeks to step up pressure on President Bashar Assad’s regime.
Major General Amid Suleiman, a Syrian officer, said that American cross-border attacks into Syria had killed at least two border guards, wounded several more and prompted an official complaint to the American embassy in Damascus.
He made the allegations during an official press tour of Syrian security forces on the Iraqi border, which the US claims is a barely guarded passage into Iraq for hardcore foreign jihadis.
While showing off what he said were beefed-up Syrian border measures designed to blunt those criticisms, including new police stations and checkpoints, Maj Gen Suleiman alleged that his own border forces had come under repeated American attack.
“Incidents have taken place with casualties on my surveillance troops,” he said, near the Euphrates river border crossing between Syria and Iraq. “Many US projectiles have landed here. In this area alone, two soldiers and two civilians have been killed by the American attacks.”
The charge follows leaks in Washington that the US has already engaged in military raids into Syria and is contemplating launching special forces operations on Syrian soil to eliminate insurgent networks before they reach Iraq.
“No one in the administration has any problem with acting tough on Syria; it is the one thing they all agree on,” said Edward Walker, a former US ambassador to Egypt and Israel, who is now head of the Middle East Institute think-tank. “I’ve heard there have been some cross-border activities, and it certainly makes sense as a warning to Syria that if they don’t take care of the problem the US will step up itself.”
But he warned that the increased blurring of battle lines between Iraq and Syria could turn a diplomatic stand-off between the two nations, playing out at the UN, into a fully fledged military confrontation. “It could escalate. With Syrian border guards getting shot, it could turn into a major issue.”
In the Euphrates valley, however, the alleged cross-border fire fights are already a major issue. The Syrian military said that in May, in the divided village of Baghouz, which straddles the Syria-Iraq border about 350 miles north east of Damascus, Abdullah al-Hassake was manning a rundown concrete frontier outpost when he and fellow soldiers heard US helicopters.
He went on to the police station roof to survey the impending battle between US troops and Iraqi insurgents, who flee to the border when under attack, and was killed by fire from the US helicopters.
Syrian officials said that US charges that they were not doing enough to prevent insurgents crossing into Iraq are unfair. They pointed to new barbed wire and reinforced sand barriers across the 400-mile border, which cost £1.5 million, and claimed that they had deported or arrested about 1,500 foreign fighters heading to Iraq.
Much of the border is impossible to seal. Across the divide, the continuing violence in Iraq is all too evident. Both sides have strong ties with the regime of the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. “The people here are happy to help fighters go to face the Americans,” said one local. But reinforced security on the Syrian side had made life harder, he added. That view is supported by some Western diplomats in Damascus, although US defence officials remain sceptical.
“The Syrians have stopped actively encouraging jihadis to go,” said one diplomat. “In fact recently they’ve tried quite hard to stop it.”
Across the Euphrates, the border appears to be the likely stage for a future showdown between the US and Syria.
“Sometimes the US soldiers fire at us every day,” said Ibrahim Brahim, a Syrian security official. “Sometimes it’s simply a mistake, but sometimes it’s not. Mostly the US army wants to show us its power.”
© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2005.
Syria: U.S. troops killed Syrian soldier
AL-HERI, Syria (AP) — A Syrian general told reporters touring the border with Iraq on Friday that U.S. forces fired across the frontier five months ago and killed a Syrian soldier during an American military operation.
The Syrians organized the rare tour along the 370-mile border in an apparent attempt to mute U.S. and Iraqi criticism that Damascus had done too little to stop foreign fighters from slipping into Iraq to join the insurgency — a charge Damascus has denied.
At the Pentagon, Army Lt. Col. Barry Venable did not comment on the allegation that a Syrian soldier was killed by U.S. forces in May, but said “the Syrian border with Iraq has been troublesome for some time.”
The United States “will use all the elements of national power to stop al-Qaeda from planning and conducting attacks on the United States or U.S. forces around the world,” Venable said.
The Syrian officer, who was dressed in plainclothes and identified himself only as Brig. Gen. Amin, said the Syrian soldier was killed and two others were wounded near a machine gun emplacement on the roof of a border police station on the Syrian side of the village of Baghouz, which is split by a fence separating Syria and Iraq.
He said the shooting occurred while American forces were conducting a military operation on the Iraqi side of the fence.
The general said he did not know of any American soldiers having strayed into Syria during the war in Iraq. However, he said there have been instances of terrorists moving into Syria from Iraq to set up cells in his country.
Washington and Baghdad have long criticized the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad for not locking down the Syrian side of the border to Islamic extremists opposed to the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.
The Americans ratcheted the pressure on Syria in recent days after a U.N. investigation issued findings that implicated Syrian officials in the February assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
The Syrian general said Damascus has increased border outposts to 557 from 547 since June, with each position staffed by eight to 10 soldiers.
He also said his forces had caught 1,400 infiltrators of “Arab, Islamic and other identities” since the beginning of the Iraq war in 2003. Most had been returned to their native countries, he said.
“Thousands” more Syrians have been stopped entering or leaving Iraq illegally, while 2,500 Iraqis have been returned to Iraq after committing crimes in Syria, he said.
During the tour Friday, U.S. sentries could be seen about 100 yards away from the Al-Heri crossing behind fortifications of sandbags and weighted barrels.
In Juwaijat Hussein, where the Euphrates River crosses the border, Iraqi children played amid sheep grazing along the river. A U.S. warplane flew overhead on a reconnaissance mission.
At one spot along the frontier, an Iraqi shepherd across the fence complained about the war.
“What bothers us the most are the continuous American attacks on our village,” said Asir Hamid, 25, from the village of Sanjak, near the Iraqi border city of Qaim. He said American warplanes attacked the area five days earlier.
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.
(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)