The startling U.S. commando attack inside Syrian territory over the weekend appears to amplify an emerging message to countries giving safe passage to terrorists: Take action, or else the U.S. will.
A U.S. military official in Washington says special forces conducted the raid in Syria on Sunday to target the network of al-Qaida-linked foreign fighters moving through Syria to help fight in the war in Iraq. Syria said troops in four helicopters attacked a building and killed eight people, including four children.
"We are taking matters into our own hands," the U.S. military official in Washington told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the political sensitivity of cross-border raids.
Though the flow of foreign fighters from Syria to Iraq has been declining, Americans have been unable to shut down the network in the area struck because Syria was out of the military's reach.
The move appears to echo one taken recently in America's other current war. President George W. Bush in July secretly approved U.S. military raids inside anti-terror ally Pakistan, which has been unwilling or unable to stem the flow of militants hiding in Pakistan and waging cross-border raids into Afghanistan.
Helicopter-borne U.S. special forces conducted a raid Sept. 3 inside Pakistan - the only one known so far following Bush's order. Islamabad has complained bitterly about the move, which it says killed some two dozen people, including civilians.
The U.S has become frustrated with the use of Pakistan's northwestern tribal areas as a safe haven for militants nearly seven years since the Taliban was rousted from Afghanistan for harboring Osama bin Laden.
Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman refused to comment Monday on Sunday's attack. And other military officials declined to even mention it off the record because of the extreme sensitivity.
But the raid came just days after the commander of U.S. forces in western Iraq said American troops were redoubling efforts to secure the Syrian border, which he called an "uncontrolled" gateway for fighters entering 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.
Government newspapers also published scathing criticisms of the raid in Monday's editions. Tishrin splashed its front pages with a headline denouncing it as a "U.S. war crime," while Al-Baath newspaper described the attack in an editorial as a "stunning, shocking and unprecedented adventure."
The area targeted Sunday is near the Iraqi border city of Qaim, which officials have said has been a major crossing point for fighters, weapons and money coming into Iraq to fuel the Sunni insurgency.