Bold U.S. raids into Pakistan and Syria show the stark choice the Bush administration is putting to both friends and adversaries in its final weeks: Clamp down on militants and terrorists or we'll do it for you.
Raids like the one in Syria on Sunday hold the potential to kill or capture wanted al-Qaida terrorists or other militants, but they also risk killing civilians and angering foreign governments and their citizens.
Selective U.S. military action across the borders of nations friendly and unfriendly suggests a new strategy, if not a wholly new counterterrorism doctrine. It's a demonstration of overt military strength that the United States has been reluctant to display in public for fear it would backfire on U.S. forces or supporters within the governments of the nations whose borders were breached.
Now, senior U.S. officials favor periodic use of the newly aggressive tactics, seeing more positives than negatives. 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 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."
The United States has become frustrated with the use of Pakistan's northwestern tribal areas as a safe haven for militants over the nearly seven years since the Taliban was rousted from Afghanistan for harboring Osama bin Laden.
U.S. forces, including the CIA, continue to conduct missile attacks inside the border region but are doing so in closer coordination with the Pakistan government, a Pakistani official said. On Monday, suspected U.S. missiles killed 20 people at the house of a Taliban commander near the Afghan border.
The Syrian raid capped nearly a year of debate among the CIA, U.S. special operations 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.
Syria called the raid a "serious aggression," and its foreign ministry summoned the charges d'affaires of the United States and Iraq in protest.
The cross-border action from U.S. positions inside Iraq comes at a touchy time in U.S.-Iraqi relations. The two sides are negotiating an agreement to extend the legal basis for American forces in Iraq after a U.N. mandate expires on Dec. 31.
Badran Turki Hishan Al Mazidih, who goes by the nickname Abu Ghadiyah, was among those killed in Sunday's raid near Abu Kamal, Syria, just over the Iraq border, a U.S. counterterrorism official said Monday. The man, an Iraqi in his early 30s, provided foreign fighters with passports, weapons, guides and safe houses as they slipped into Iraq. The death toll from the raid was unclear. The Syrian government said eight people, including four children, were killed. Local officials said seven men were killed. As anguished Syrians buried relatives Monday, they shouted anti-American slogans and carried banners reading "Down with Bush and the American enemy."
Suspected U.S. missiles killed 20 people Monday at the house of a Taliban commander near the Afghan border, the latest volley in a two-month onslaught on militant bases inside Pakistan, officials said. The reported missile strike occurred in South Waziristan, part of a belt of tribally governed territory considered a possible hiding place for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri. The identity of the bodies pulled from the rubble was not immediately clear.
Insurgents downed a U.S. helicopter in a province near the capital Monday, the U.S. military said, an unusual feat for the Taliban. The crew survived and was rescued, the military said. Also, a suicide bomber dressed as an Afghan policeman killed two U.S. soldiers and wounded several other people at a police station in northern Afghanistan, provincial officials said. The Taliban claimed responsibility.
U.S. forces fought off an attack in the early hours Monday against a military base in Baghdad, killing five of the assailants, in a neighborhood that was once a notorious Shiite militia stronghold.