BEIRUT, Lebanon — U.S. forces ferried by helicopter crossed five miles into Syria on Sunday and launched a commando raid near the Iraqi border that left at least eight people dead, Syrian news outlets and sources reported.
Syria has long been a conduit for foreign fighters attempting to slip into Iraq to attack U.S. troops.
A U.S. military official told the Associated Press the raid by special forces targeted the network of al-Qaida-linked foreign fighters moving through Syria into Iraq. The Americans have been unable to shut the network down in the area because Syria was out of the military's reach.
“We are taking matters into our own hands,” the official told The Associated Press in Washington, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of political sensitivity.
Damascus' official Syrian Arab News Agency said U.S. military helicopters entered the country along the Iraqi border in Bukamal.
The Syrian news agency said four U.S. helicopters crossed into Syrian airspace around 4:45 p.m. local time and fired on a number of people who appeared to be laborers.
Witnesses told media that two helicopters landed and eight U.S. soldiers disembarked. Syrian state television said they stormed a building.
There have been rare reports of the U.S. military firing across the border since fighting began in Iraq in 2003. But the attack, if confirmed, would appear to mark the first time U.S. troops have launched an attack inside Syria.
Damascus and Washington have taken steps recently toward easing their strained relations.
But on Sunday, the Syrian Foreign Ministry summoned the top U.S. and Iraqi diplomats in Damascus and made charges of “dangerous aggression,” the news agency said.
It demanded that Iraq launch an immediate investigation into the attack and that it prevent foreign forces from using Iraqi territory to launch attacks.
It was unclear how the raid would affect U.S.-Iraqi negotiations over an agreement to extend the American military presence in Iraq. Syria and Iran have opposed the agreement, in part out of fear that U.S. forces would use Iraq as a base to strike at them.
U.S. officials have asked Arab leaders in the past to pressure Syria to tighten its visa restrictions on “military-aged males,” in an effort to prevent would-be militants from flying to Damascus then making their way to the Iraqi border. Military units inside Iraq have focused on shutting down the “rat lines” that shuttled militants from the Syrian border to Baghdad.