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Officials: Foreign fighter chief killed in Syria
Mideast Syr 5367839
The mother, left, and two sisters of Syrian Faysal el-Abdallah who died a day before when U.S. military helicopters launched an attack on Syrian territory, look at his picture as they mourn during a funeral procession in the Sukkariyeh Farm near the town of Abu Kamal in an area of farms and brick factories about five miles (eight kilometers) inside the Syrian border, on Monday, Oct. 27, 2008. Blood stained the dusty earth Monday as anguished villagers on the outskirts of farming town near Iraq buried loved ones they say were killed by an American helicopter raid inside Syria. - photo by Associated Press
    WASHINGTON — A top al-Qaida in Iraq operative killed during a U.S. raid on a Syrian compound just over the Iraq border was about to carry out an attack in Iraq, U.S. officials say.
    The operative, known as Abu Ghadiyah, was the leader of the most prolific network that moves foreign fighters linked to al-Qaida into Iraq. He was the target of the Sunday afternoon raid on the compound in Sukkariyeh, Syria.
    Last spring U.S. intelligence picked up similar reports that Abu Ghadiyah was planning an attack in Iraq. The information — not detailed enough to act on — was followed by the murder of 11 Iraqi policemen. Abu Ghadiyah personally led the attack, a senior U.S. official told The Associated Press.
    ‘‘The trip wire was knowing an attack was imminent, and also being able to pinpoint his location,’’ the official said Monday.
    The officials spoke on condition of anonymity so they could discuss sensitive intelligence matters.
    Abu Ghadiyah is the nickname for Badran Turki Hishan Al Mazidih.
    The attack was carried out to coincide with the customary late afternoon rest period. A ground attack was chosen over a missile strike to reduce the chance of civilian casualties.
    Syria said troops in four helicopters attacked a building and killed eight people, including four children.
    A U.S. military official with direct knowledge of the raid said Tuesday: ‘‘Absolutely no women or children were killed.’’
    ‘‘American troops put themselves at risk to ensure children and women would not be killed in the Syria incident,’’ he said.
    The raid capped nearly a year of debate among the CIA, U.S. special forces and commanders in Iraq about how to handle the Syrian tributary of the Iraq foreign fighter problem, according to a former intelligence official and a current U.S. military official who deals with Iraq.
    ‘‘This operation is just part of a wider campaign to take the fight to (al-Qaida in Iraq) not just inside Iraq but to other areas,’’ a senior U.S. military official told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
    The plan was laid out more than a year ago by Gen. David Petraeus, then-U.S. commander in Iraq: ‘‘Strangle their resources and capabilities including money, foreign fight flow, sanctuaries, media outlets, key leaders, bomb making networks and support by local Sunni tribes,’’ the intelligence official said.
    The United States had asked Syria to hand over Abu Ghadiyah months prior to the raid, the intelligence official said. Syria rebuffed the U.S. request, saying it was monitoring Abu Ghadiyah’s activities, said a former military official with direct recent knowledge of U.S. intelligence in western Iraq.
    The raid came just days after the commander of U.S. forces in western Iraq said American troops were redoubling efforts to secure the Syrian border, which he called an ‘‘uncontrolled’’ gateway for fighters entering Iraq.
    Selective U.S. military action across the borders of nations friendly and unfriendly is 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 these governments.
    Now, senior U.S. officials favor judicious 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 Washington.
    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.’’

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