Report: U.S. choppers attack targets inside Syria?

So say local witnesses and, er, Syrian state media. Bush surely realizes how much mileage Democrats will get from painting this as a contrived October surprise and an example of Republican “warmongering,” so if — if — it’s true, something mighty interesting must have been going on in that village to make him pull the trigger.

Local residents in a Syrian border town said that American forces killed seven men in a helicopter-borne commando attack inside Syrian territory. State-run TV later raised the number of dead to nine.

Doctors in the town of Al-Sukkariya, some eight kilometres from the Iraqi border, said seven corpses and four wounded had been delivered to a nearby clinic after the attack.

The eyewitness accounts said that four helicopters were involved in the operation, with two of the helicopters landing in the town and eight American soldiers disembarking. The eyewitnesses said that the seven killed men were supposedly construction workers.

Afterwards, the US helicopters then left Syrian airspace with all the soldiers again on board.

A U.S. spokesman in Baghdad says the military’s investigating. JPost notes that the site of the attack is near the Iraqi border city of Qaim, which jihadis used as a way station for years to enter the country, so there’s your potential motive. Why we felt obliged to cross the border now, though, when we were content to respect Syrian sovereignty even during the worst days of the insurgency isn’t clear to me. I sent an e-mail to Bill Roggio asking him if he thinks it’s plausible; stand by for updates when he responds. For what it’s worth, an Israeli security correspondent tells Sky News he thinks it probably was Americans and that they were likely after Al Qaeda. The immediate question will be why Bush felt he had to act now as opposed to, say, a week from Wednesday.

Worth noting: U.S. soldiers in Iraq have been impersonated by enemy fighters before, to devastating effect. Although if they’re impersonators, it leaves open the not so minor matter of where they got the choppers and where, precisely, the attack was staged from.

Exit question: If they were targeting an AQI safehouse, why put men on the ground to “storm a building,” as the BBC report puts it? Why not just send a missile down the chimney, Waziristan style? Clearly they were looking for someone.

Update: The only two people I can think of who might justify an operation in Syria are al-Masri, the leader of AQI, and Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, who’s long been rumored to be hiding out there. Roggio will have other guesses, certainly. A snatch and grab operation of some high-ranking insurgent would explain why boots were on the ground and why they felt they had to act now, even with the election so near. Short of that, the only explanation I can come up with is that there was some sort of cargo in transit that simply had to be seized and secured, even at the risk of casualties.

Update: Roggio to the rescue. He thinks it’s plausible and that al-Masri was the likely target.

The raid occurred close to the main border crossing point between Iraq and Syria. Al Qaeda declared an Islamic Emirate in Al Qaim right along the Iraqi border during the spring of 2005. Al Qaeda terrorized the local tribes and attempted to institute a Taliban-like rule. Al Qaim was the main infiltration route into Iraq until US Marines and Iraqi troops launched a campaign to dislodge al Qaeda from the region.

The US has neither confirmed nor denied the operation took place. If the attack occurred, it would have been carried out by Task Force 88, the special operations hunt-killer teams assigned to target al Qaeda operatives as well as Shia terrorists in Iraq…

The US military may be closing in on al Qaeda’s senior leadership. US forces killed Abu Qaswarah, al Qaeda in Iraq’s second in command, during a raid in Mosul in northern Iraq on Oct. 15. The military has also killed and captured numerous al Qaeda leader and couriers over the past several weeks. The information obtained during these raids help to paint a picture of al Qaeda’s command structure inside of of Iraq as well as in neighboring countries.

Update: More plausible by the minute: “The Syrian report comes just days after the commander of U.S. forces in western Iraq told reporters that American troops were redoubling efforts to secure the Syrian border, which he said was an ‘uncontrolled’ gateway for fighters entering Iraq.” Here’s video from MSNBC. Note the brass’s insistence that they won’t be commenting on this subject.

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