Bold U.S. raids into Pakistan and Syria show the stark choice the Bush administration is putting to both friends and adversaries in its final weeks: Clamp down on militants and terrorists or we'll do it for you.
Raids like the one in Syria on Sunday hold the potential to kill or capture wanted al-Qaida terrorists or other militants, but they also risk killing civilians and angering foreign governments and their citizens.
Selective U.S. military action across the borders of nations friendly and unfriendly suggests a new strategy, if not a wholly new counterterrorism doctrine. It's a demonstration of overt military strength that the U.S. has been reluctant to display in public for fear it would backfire on U.S. forces or supporters within the governments of the nations whose borders were breached.
Now, senior U.S. officials favor periodic use of the newly aggressive tactics, seeing more upsides than down. They reason that whatever diplomatic damage is done will be mitigated when President Bush leaves office and a new president is inaugurated.
That may work in Syria, where the government has already said it is looking forward to a better relationship with the next U.S. president, said Anthony Cordesman, a Middle East expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. In Pakistan, however, special operations raids could box in the new American president by inflaming an already outraged public.
“Public opinion is already very strongly against the U.S. and ‘anti' any U.S. role or interference,” Cordesman said. “It's not clear that you are not building up a broad public resistance that will bind the next administration.”
The target of Sunday's raid in Sukkariyeh, Syria, just over the Iraq border from Husaybah, was the Abu Ghadiyah network, according to a U.S. counterterrorism official who spoke anonymously. Badran Turki Hishan Al Mazidih, who goes by the nickname Abu Ghadiyah, was among those killed, the official said. He headed the entire foreign fighter network that flows into Iraq through Syria, the official said.
Ghadiyah's home near the Euphrates River was close to the border of Iraq and is said a key node in the “rat line” that has brought thousands of foreign fighters into Iraq.
Syria said troops in four helicopters attacked a building and killed eight people, including four children. The building may have been a safe house or way station for fighters moving across the border.
The attack comes at time when Syria has been working to improve its image in the world. And periodically, U.S. commanders have noted that Damascus has worked harder to clamp down on the use of its country by terrorists.
Bush secretly approved a separate directive three months ago allowing special operations forces to cross the Afghan border to conduct raids inside Pakistan.
On Monday, suspected U.S. missiles killed 20 people at the house of a Taliban commander inside Pakistan near the Afghan border. Helicopter-borne U.S. special forces also conducted a raid Sept. 3 inside Pakistan. Islamabad says the raid killed two dozen people, including civilians, and violated its sovereignty.