The US military said it is investigating claims from Syria that US helicopters based in Iraq killed eight people and wounded another Sunday in an attack inside Syria’s territory Sunday.
Syria’s state news agency SANA said four US helicopters crossed the border and struck a farm about 8 kilometers (5 miles) inside Syria before returning to Iraqi airspace. … The helicopters hit a civilian building under construction on the farm, killing killing three men, the wife of a guard and four children.
… “Unfortunately, we cannot confirm anything at the moment,” [Sgt. Brooke Murphy, a US military spokeswoman, told CNN.]
The attack occurred near the town of Al-Bukamal, which is home to a Red Crescent camp for Iraqi refugees.
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[I]f the claims are true then this will be the first military incursion by the US into Syrian territory from Iraq.
But its timing is curious, coming right at the end of the Bush administration’s period of office and at a moment when many of America’s European allies – like Britain and France – are trying to broaden their ties with Damascus.
Whatever the local military factors involved in this US operation, it would be unthinkable to imagine that an incursion into Syria would not require a policy decision at a high-level.
The movement of insurgents and foreign fighters from Syria into Iraq has long been a bone of contention between Damascus and Washington.
The US argument has always been that the Syrians are not doing enough to control the border. The Syrians have always countered that they are unfairly being blamed for turmoil inside Iraq that is not of their making.
Quite apart from their differences over Iraq, Washington sees Syria as unhelpful in Lebanon and as far too friendly with Iran.
While there have been relatively high-level contacts between the two governments – US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meeting the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly just a few weeks ago – they have hardly generated any warmth.
Washington has even been lukewarm to Turkey’s efforts to broker a peace deal between Israel and Syria.
All of this is in marked contrast to European efforts to engage the Syrians.