Syria and sovereignity

Washington Post:

U.S. troops in helicopters flew four miles into Syrian territory over the weekend to target the leader of a network that channels foreign fighters from Syria into Iraq, killing or wounding him and shooting dead several armed men, U.S. officials said Monday.


But officials said the raid Sunday, apparently the first acknowledged instance of U.S. ground forces operating in Syria, was intended to send a warning to the Syrian government. "You have to clean up the global threat that is in your back yard, and if you won't do that, we are left with no choice but to take these matters into our hands," said a senior U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the cross-border strike.


The network run by Mazidih has smuggled hundreds of foreign fighters into Iraq, including many who became suicide bombers, officials and analysts said. "He ran one of the largest and most productive foreign fighter networks out of Syria" and was "directly responsible for hundreds of foreign fighters who killed thousands" of Iraqis, the senior official said.

The U.S. military has shown patience, the official said, but "eventually you can't wait for guys like that to come back across the border and kill scores of Iraqis or, worse, your own forces."

A summer 2007 U.S. military raid on a suspected al-Qaeda in Iraq house in the Iraqi town of Sinjar, near Syria, yielded a wealth of information about alleged Syrian smuggling networks used to move foreign fighters into Iraq.

The documents included al-Qaeda in Iraq records of more than 500 foreign fighters who had entered from Syria, according to the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., where civilian analysts are examining the documents. A July report made public their latest findings.

The documents indicated that at least 95 Syrian "coordinators" were involved in moving the foreign fighters. Many of the coordinators were from smuggling families in Bedouin clans and other Syrian tribes. A number of them appeared to be cooperating with al-Qaeda in Iraq for pay rather than out of ideological sympathy.

Many recruits reported to their handlers in Iraq that they had passed through Damascus, Syria's capital, and then an area near the Iraqi border called Abu Kamal. Sunday's raid occurred in Abu Kamal.


More broadly, U.S. military and intelligence officials and analysts have asserted for years that such strikes are justified if a country is unwilling or unable to control its own territory or the threats emanating from inside its borders. U.S. strikes can goad such countries into action, officials say.

The military's argument is that "you can only claim sovereignty if you enforce it," said Anthony Cordesman, a military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "When you are dealing with states that do not maintain their sovereignty and become a de facto sanctuary, the only way you have to deal with them is this kind of operation," he said.

Cordesman's point is one I have often made about the ridiculous Pakistan position on sovereignty. It is why the hysteria over Nixon's operations in Cambodia was so ridiculous. If a state cannot maintain control over and responsibility for the people on its territory, it has forfeited sovereignty over that area.

In the case of Syria, I suspect that some in the Syrian government are complicit in the transit of al Qaeda operatives into Iraq. Syria has a government that makes mischief with its neighbors routinely.

One thing we also know now is that the Syrian diplomats were sent out to lie Monday.


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