Syria Says U.S. Strikes Within Its Borders

The Syrian government says U.S. helicopters delivered troops into Syrian territory Sunday, and attacked a building and killed eight civilians. Syria officials called the incident inside its border with Iraq "serious aggression." The Pentagon has not commented. U.S. officials have complained that Sunni insurgents use Syria as a base for sending fighters and weapons into Iraq.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's Morning Edition from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep. Let's try to sort out as best we can what happened on the border between Iraq and Syria. Syria's government says US helicopters delivered troops into Syrian territory yesterday. And according to the Syrians, the Americans attacked a building and killed eight civilians. We haven't heard from the US side yet. We are hearing now from NPR's Corey Flintoff who's covering this story from Baghdad. And Corey, what's the best information you have?

COREY FLINTOFF: Well, we have a few details, but most of what we're hearing is actually coming from the Syrian side. They do say four helicopters crossed the border from Iraq. They attacked a spot outside a Syrian town called Abu Kamal. And if you look at a map, you can see that that's right at the point where the Euphrates River enters Iraq from Syria. It's on the main road from Damascus to Baghdad. You know, it's a very fertile farming region and also an area that has a lot of traffic.

The Syrians say that a building site was attacked, and there's actually - the Associated Press had a video of the place that shows what appears to be a building under construction. The Syrians say construction workers were killed and hurt. We got word from sources in the Iraqi interior ministry that said there were militants in the area and that weapons were found at the site. Our sources did say that civilians were injured in the raid, including a woman and a child.

INSKEEP: So we don't have confirmation that Americans were involved in whatever happened. But let's ask about US interests here. What interest does the United States have in what goes on inside Syria?

FLINTOFF: Well, interestingly, this happened just after last week - last Thursday, Major General John Kelly, who's a top commander here, identified the Syrian borders as the one remaining place where foreign fighters are still able to get into Iraq. And he blamed the Syrians. He said they're failing to control their side. He said, actually, US troops are now helping to build ditches and a sand berm around the border area to try to control that stretch.

But you know, having said that, Steve, US intelligence reports have said as recently as just this summer that the number of foreign fighters making their way into the country really has dropped sharply since last year. They said it's down to, you know, as little as 20 a month. But I think a major concern is still that these fighters are bringing in money to help finance the insurgency.

INSKEEP: So we know that the US is concerned about what's going on inside Syria. We do not have confirmation that American forces crossed the border. What are the Syrians saying?

FLINTOFF: Well, last night the Syrian foreign affairs ministry called in both the US and Iraqi representatives. The charge d'affaires called them in to the foreign ministry and in diplomatic language demanded an explanation for this. Then today Syria's press attache in London, a man named Jihad Makdissi, gave an interview to the BBC in which his language was much more emphatic.

Mr. JIHAD MAKDISSI (Syrian Press Attache, London): Britain and the US - the US, let me say in particular - is a permanent member of the Security Council. So it's outrageous crime for a country who's responsible to maintain peace and security in the whole world to act this way.

FLINTOFF: So you can judge by that that the Syrians are officially, at least, extremely angry about this.

INSKEEP: Would the highest levels of the US government have to authorize a raid into Syria?

FLINTOFF: Well, you would presume so because, I mean, this is actually on a level with the US raids from Afghanistan into Pakistan, where they're chasing these Taliban fighters. So far the US military in Baghdad has issued a no comment on this, and we're not even hearing anything off the record about it. The Associated Press did quote an unidentified US military official in Washington as saying that the US was taking matters into its own hands after Syria failed to stop this flow of foreign fighters into Iraq.

INSKEEP: OK. NPR's Corey Flintoff. He's in Baghdad, and he's bringing us the best information we have about allegations that US forces crossed the border from Iraq into Syria. Corey, thanks very much.

FLINTOFF: My pleasure, Steve.

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