First, lets look at some first hand accounts of what happened…

From Syria Comment…

This report was just sent by a reader (6:30 p.m. central time, Sunday):

Joshua and all,

I just spoke on the phone with a doctor in ABou Kamal- He confirmed that the attack happened around sunset. The 4 helicopters came from the East of the township, he saw them coming. The soldiers debarked and shot people who were working in a building under construction on the periphery of the township.

9 people were pronounced dead on arrival to the hospital- Two more are severely wounded and are being operated on right now [he does not expect them to survive]- He has not read the papers (there are none to read at this time of the night) nor listened to the news and there is no internet there….His report was completely spontaneous-

I was not able to get the details on the ages of the injured but he described them as poor simple people (Masakeen)from the town. If the matter were otherwise, he would have let me know.

From the BBC…

Syrian witness reacts to US raid

"I live less than two miles (three kilometres) away from where it took place. I was asleep at the time, but went to the hospital less than two hours afterwards. Nearly everyone who had heard about it was there.

Most of the people here have bitter anti-American sentiments and this has only added fuel to the fire.

We are also very disappointed with the lack of response from our own authorities.

The attack was in the village of Sukariya, which is inhabited almost entirely by the Mashahda tribe.

They are very relaxed, laid back people, not very religious – there’s no Mujahideen from this tribe. The guard and the woman who died were very simple people.

They lived in a tent and were being paid to guard building materials such as cement and timber, 24 hours a day. These people will have had nothing to do with the insurgency in Iraq.

Most of the people who live here have families in Iraq. A lot of smuggling goes on: bringing guns and sheep from Iraq to Syria.

There is security everywhere in this country. The government is very severe with the locals; if they have a tip-off that someone has a stolen gun, the place will be surrounded in two minutes.

But yesterday there was zero response. The attack happened close to a bridge over the Euphrates and there are military posts either side of the bridge – so very near…"

Hmmm… Definitely sounds like a hub of AQI activity, eh?

A US helicopter raid into Syria killed a key figure involved in the smuggling of foreign fighters into Iraq, unnamed US officials have said.

Officials called the raid, which they said killed Iraqi Abu Ghadiyah, a "success". The White House has neither confirmed nor denied the incident.[...]

"It was a successful operation. [Abu Ghadiyah] is believed to be dead. This undoubtedly will have a debilitating effect on this foreign fighter smuggling network," the official said.

A second official told the agency that only people the forces considered a threat had been targeted and that women and children were alive when the team left.

A US intelligence official told Associated Press news agency there was information that Abu Ghadiyah was about to carry out an attack in Iraq and that this had led to the raid.

"The trip wire was knowing an attack was imminent, and also being able to pinpoint his location," the official said.

The official said the US had similar but less detailed information in the spring

Shortly afterwards, 11 Iraqi policeman were killed in an attack the US believes was led by Abu Ghadiyah personally.

Sunday’s attack took place during the afternoon rest period, with a troop assault preferred over a missile strike to reduce civilian casualties, the intelligence official said.

So Abu Ghadiyah was smuggling foreign fighters into Iraq, eh? But, was he not dead already from a previous missile strike…? From the BBC…

Mystery surrounds the fate of a top al-Qaeda operative reportedly targeted by an alleged US strike on Syria.

US officials have identified Syrian militant Abu Ghadiya as a key figure behind the smuggling of foreign fighters into Iraq.

They are reportedly claiming that his death in the raid will have a major impact on al-Qaeda’s capabilities.

But this runs at odds with statements made by the militant’s organisation, al-Qaeda in Iraq, which announced his death on jihadist web sites over two years ago.

According to an al-Qaeda obituary of the militant released in August 2006, Abu Ghadiya died on the Saudi-Iraqi border sometime after the US-Iraqi offensive on Fallujah in November 2004.

The group said he had been sent to the area to meet with a leader of al-Qaeda’s Saudi branch.

Both men died in an airstrike which targeted a house they were meeting in, the group claimed.

Fancy that! We killed him again…!

Now, as numerous reports suggest this was ‘approved’ not by MNF-I and Odierno, but, possibly as high as the WH…

AMERICAN STRIKE ON SYRIA: A GIFT FROM CHENEY TO MCCAIN?

The timing is amazing from a neoconservative point of view, a few days before the American elections. Right now, after years of scrupulously avoiding crossing into Syrian territory, the American military receives instructions to invade a town in Syria and kill 8 people.

A U.S. military official confirmed late Sunday an American helicopter attack in an area along Syria’s border with Iraq, which left 8 people dead and three people wounded.

Syria condemned the attack, which it called “serious aggression.”

We are closer than ever before to serious conversations between Israel and Syria, Syria has recognized an international border with Lebanon for the first time in modern history, and this is horrifying to neoconservatives who ran Washington for the last decade. They need to use force and force only to conquer Iraq, Iran and Syria. And they need to promote a conception of the American presidency that is focused on the use of military force. It is vital to their conception of American hegemony. It is as opposite from a realist’s interests in exploring common interests internationally, with both allies and adversaries, as one could imagine.

What better way to move the American people back to a neoconservative view than by provoking a Syrian/American conflict days before one of the most fateful elections in American history.

Even the Grey Lady questions the timing…

The timing was startling, not least because American officials praised Syria in recent months for its efforts to halt traffic across the border.

But in justifying the attack, American officials said the Bush administration was determined to operate under an expansive definition of self-defense that provided a rationale for strikes on militant targets in sovereign nations without those countries’ consent.

Together with a similar American commando raid into Pakistan more than seven weeks ago, the operation on Sunday appeared to reflect an intensifying effort by the Bush administration to find a way during its waning months to attack militants even beyond the borders of Iraq and Afghanistan, where the United States is at war.

Administration officials declined to say whether the emerging application of self-defense could lead to strikes against camps inside Iran that have been used to train Shiite “special groups” that have fought with the American military and Iraqi security forces.

American officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the secrecy of the raid said the mission had been mounted rapidly over the weekend on orders from the Central Intelligence Agency when the location of the man suspected of leading an insurgent cell, an Iraqi known as Abu Ghadiya, was confirmed. About two dozen American commandos in specially equipped Black Hawk helicopters swooped into the village of Sukkariyah, six miles from the Iraqi border, just before 5 p.m., and fought a brief gun battle with Abu Ghadiya and several members of his cell, the officials said.

Col. Pat Lang does suspect Odierno’s heavy hand…

How does one explain this operation?

At present; the Bush Administration and its perennial and unending hostility to Syria is about to disappear, negotiations between the US and Iraq are in a delicate condition, Syria has signaled a desire to improve relations with the US, Israel and Lebanon, there is a new US commander in Iraq.

Where in all of that is an explanation for this US commando raid into the Syrian border country?

Some thoughts:

- The US Special Operations Forces (USSOF) counter-terrorist forces may have been "off the leash" on this one. These forces are exclusively focused on hunting down terrorist people and support group world-wide. Rumsfeld made them largely independent of the regular military chain of command. They amount to a global SWAT team. They develop their own targeting intelligence and make their own plans. The amount of control that the local US joint commander has over them is not very clear. They are not noted for a great deal of insight into geopolitical niceties.

- General Odierno, the man who replaced Petraeus in Iraq, is not famous for nuanced reactions to frustrating situations.

Whatever the cause, the result of ham fisted actions of this kind can be disastrous for the chance of making something better emerge from the situation that Bush/Cheney is leaving for President Obama and his team. pl

Helena Cobban thinks it was a botched attempt at an ‘October Surprise’…

Attack on Syria: White House misjudgments

…I had thought, and wrote earlier, that it was already too late for such an October surprise to be successful. We are now just eight days from the election. Perhaps we are still at the outer edge of when– in the estimation of the McCheneys of this world– such a crisis might be "politically advantageous."

If so, their judgment is deeply flawed on two counts.

1. First, and most important, a raid of this dimension– a handful of helicopters, going against one farm compound, and killing a reported eight people, all described as civilians and described as including four children– is not on its own going to provide or provoke the kind of security crisis that would make waves inside the US. For that to happen, the raid would have had to provoke a strong Syrian response.

But the Syrians have not responded, and are not about to respond, in any way that is violent or otherwise escalates tensions.

I’ve been studying the behavior of this Baathist regime in Syria closely for 34 years now. They have steely nerves. They are just about impossible to "provoke," at any point that they judge a harsh response is not in their interest. They are quite ready to absorb material and human losses without making any kind of harsh response, and even to suffer repeated episodes of political humiliation from among their highly nationalistic political base, as they do so.

They are not about to over-react.

This stymies any McCheneyist plan for an October surprise.

2. But the idea of initiating some kind of security-related "October surprise" also, imho, represents a serious misread of US public opinion. A clear majority of US opinion is now clearly very angry over many aspects of the Bush-Cheney years, with the financial/economic crisis now top of the list of their (our) concerns. The US electorate might have been distractable with foreign military adventures for much of the past eight years. (I’m reading Bart Gellman’s masterly study of the Cheney vice-presidency. He sketches out what could be a convincing case that just about all of Cheney’s actions– in the realm of foreign affairs as well as economic affairs– have been directed centrally at increasing the powers of the presidency. Disturbing to think that at one level Cheney was simply "using" the whole of the GWOT and the foreign military projects just for that… )

But I think the scales have now fallen from the eyes of enough of the US electorate, regarding the lying and very damaging manipulations that have marked the Bush-Cheney years, that no additional military/security escalation anywhere could swing opinion back behind McCain.

So once again, in these two respects, the folks in the White House have seriously misjudged the world that exists outside their bubble. This is certainly the case if their intention was that yesterday’s raid would lead to a Syrian over-reaction that would then provide the excuse for further US escalations.

The Syrian government is deliberately responding only through strong diplomatic protests.

The American provokers may, of course, have a slightly longer-term project in mind– perhaps one in which a whole series of US raids into Syria, which are not "answered" by a response from the Syrian government that is "strong" enough to satisfy the country’s hardliners, could lead to rising anti-government unrest inside Syria?

The net result seems to cement Shrub’s ‘Legacy’ in the ME for Obama to suck it up…

Now, what is the immediate fallout from this fuckery…?

From Iraq…

A senior Shi’ite member of parliament said the U.S. strike’s timing makes it more difficult to gather support for the pact.

"The whole strike is confusing for us. Why now, why at this time when we are negotiating the pact?" he said. "One of the red lines which neither Maliki nor any of the other political powers would allow to be crossed is the use of Iraq as a staging ground to attack other countries."

France…

The office of French President Nicolas Sarkozy issued a statement expressing “serious concerns” about the raid and the loss of Syrian lives. Syria has lately embarked on policies that France and other Western governments have viewed favorably, including indirect peace talks with Israel. Russia also voiced concern about the operation.

It is a real head scratcher as to why we committed this ‘war crime’. WTF were they thinking…? Are they determined to derail any and all diplomatic efforts throughout the ME? January 20th, 2009 is not coming fast enough…