United States Special Operations Forces crossed the Syrian border in an operation targeting the home of Abu Ghadiyah, leader of an al-Qaeda-linked Syrian network that smuggled jihadists, arms and money into Iraq. In February (2008) the U.S. Treasury Department identified Abu Ghadiyah as head of al Qaeda in Iraq’s (AQI’s) facilitation network:
which controls the flow of money, weapons, terrorists, and other resources through Syria into Iraq. Former AQI leader Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi appointed Badran as AQI’s Syrian commander for logistics in 2004. After Zarqawi’s death, Badran began working for the new AQI leader, Abu Ayyub Al-Masri. As of late-September 2006, Badran took orders directly from Masri, or through a deputy.
The attack was conducted by four helicopters with accounts varying whether ground forces were involved. The NYT cites an unnamed source claiming “two dozen American commandos in specially equipped Black Hawk helicopters…fought a brief gun battle with Abu Ghadiya and several members of his cell.” Syrian witnesses describe two Arab men taken aboard helicopters and flown out of the area. The Associated Press notes:
U.S. authorities have said Abu Ghadiyah’s real name is Badran Turki al-Mazidih, an Iraqi in his early 30s who served as al-Qaida in Iraq’s head of logistics in Syria since 2004. His job included providing foreign fighters with passports, weapons, guides and safe houses as they slipped into Iraq and made their way to Baghdad and other major cities where the Sunni insurgency was raging.
In the past weeks, U.S. forces in western Iraq have been stepping up their efforts to control the flow of foreign fighters over the Syrian border. Stuart Levey, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, describes Syria as “a transit station for al Qaeda foreign terrorists on their way to Iraq.” While the numbers of foreign fighters caught and killed in Iraq has been on the decline since the advent of the surge and the Sunni Awakening, the region where the operation occurred has remained a primary route for money, weapons and men supporting the Sunni insurgency. As long as he stayed in Syria, Abu Ghadiyah remained out of reach of U.S. and coalition forces. That is, until Sunday.
Syrian officials condemned the attack as an act of “serious aggression” and government controlled newspapers claimed the U.S. had committed “war crimes.” The Russian government, set to sell new missile systems to Syria, has accused the United States of “fuelling dangerous tension in the Middle East”. This attack sends a clear message to the Syrian government: If you are providing safe passage for terrorists, the U.S. will take unilateral action.