by Austin Bay
October 29, 2008No military operation is riskier than a commando raid.
Extreme physical danger and the potentially high payoff if theoperation succeeds are two reasons a dramatic raid has box-office appeal inHollywood.
The U.S. raid last weekend certainly involved immense personalrisk by the two-dozen American special operations soldiers who entered theSyrian village of Sukkariyah and shot it out with an alleged al-Qaidacommander, Abu Ghadiyah, and his personal cohort. The London Times reportedthat Abu Ghadiyah was al-Qaida in Iraq's "commander for Syrian logistics."
The raid also entailed political risks. Syria howled, Russiayelped, even Iraq deplored it -- but that is surface political rhetoric. Forfive years, Iraqis have been complaining of "foreign fighter" and terroristinfiltration from Syria. Baghdad has no sympathy for a beast like AbuGhadiyah, whose "foreign fighters" murdered thousands of Iraqis.
Special operations missions are by necessity covert operations.High-risk missions like gathering intelligence on enemy ground, resupplyingallied guerrilla groups and conducting a raid to seize prisoners requiresecrecy for success. Covert usually means politically deniable -- hence theterm "shadow warfare" for these special operations and intelligencemissions.
The U.S. raid into Syria was a surprise strike, but there waslittle denial. The U.S. military confirmed the raid.
So did Syrians living in Sukkariyah -- in particular, one manwho showed a reporter video of U.S. helicopters buzzing his town. He shotthe video using his cell phone. New technology has added light and reducedthe shadow for special ops.
Sukkariyah lies close to the Syria-Iraq border. Abu Ghadiyah wasin charge of the "rat line" that moved money, weapons, explosives and the"foreign volunteers" through Syria into Iraq.
Supply lines and infiltration routes run by al-Qaida and membersof Saddam's regime have been operating out of Syria since 2004. In 2004, Ihad two different people tell me that that in 2003, after Saddam's regimecollapsed, several of Saddam's former Baath Party subordinates receivedfinancial support from confederates or sympathizers located in Syria.Iron-clad intelligence connecting thugs to financiers, however, was lacking.
The intelligence now available to U.S. and Iraqi forces is muchmore certain. As a result, the shade for al-Qaida has also diminished.
The "rat lines" in Iraq have been badly damaged.StrategyPage.com recently reported that in the last six months "U.S. andIraqi forces have shut down most of the smuggling gangs inside Iraq, atleast those that specialize in supporting terrorists."
The Sukkariyah attack "rolls the rat line up" another notch -- amajor notch.
The London Times quoted an unnamed U.S. official as saying: "Astargets present themselves and are identified, they become more and more atrisk. Just like in Pakistan, there will be steps taken to deal with it."
U.S. presidential campaign rhetoric to the contrary, the UnitedStates is constantly stalking al-Qaida. We hear about it occasionally, withAir Force gunship strikes in Somalia and CIA-operated Predator unmannedaerial vehicles firing missiles in Pakistan. The Sukkariyah raid is a moreexplicit statement that al-Qaida remains in the bull's-eye.
It has taken a lot of effort to shrink al-Qaida's shade. Peopleprovide the kind of intelligence it takes to make the case for across-border raid into an allegedly neutral country.
Again, campaign rhetoric to the contrary, the change in Iraq'spolitical environment has seeded this improvement in intelligence. Iraqoffers a new political choice -- democracy -- in the Arab Muslim MiddleEast, a region where choice has been limited to either tyranny or terrorism.