BAGHDAD ø The U.S. military, backed by Iraqi forces, has launched its first
major operation along the border with Syria.
U.S. officials said Operation Phantom Linebacker has mobilized thousands of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers as well as armored combat vehicles,
unmanned air vehicles and helicopters in an effort to stem the flow of
insurgents, funds and weapons from Syria into Iraq.
The officials said the operation came in wake of a determination that the Sunni insurgency, including support
for Abu Mussib Al Zarqawi, was coming mainly from Saddam Hussein loyalists
who have fled to Syria.
The operation began on Aug. 2 and included the Iraqi Border Police and Iraqi National
Guard, Middle East Newsline reported.
"Our first priority will be on the Syrian border," Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz,
commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, said, "because we think that's where the
former regime leadership and money went, in that direction, and it's coming
back in from that direction."
Officials said the operation was the largest by the United States to
stop weapons from Syria. Earlier missions involved mainly fixed- and
rotary-wing aircraft in pursuit of Sunni insurgents along the more than 500
kilometer Iraqi-Syrian border.
The U.S. Army has not announced Operation Phantom Linebacker. But the
military said two marines died in fighting in the Anbar province during
"security and stability operations" along the Syrian border. No other
details were provided.
Officials said Syrian officials have provided passports and official
documents to Sunni insurgents in exchange for hefty bribes. They said the
insurgents have also bribed Iraqi security forces deployed along the border.
Operation Phantom Linebacker, which has included the 1st Marine
Expeditionary Force, has also deployed UAVs as
well as U.S. satellites to track the insurgency route. Officials said the
first line of operations was being conducted by Iraqi security forces, with
U.S. troops providing intelligence and support.
The U.S.-led operation came in wake of several warnings by Baghdad to
both Iran and Syria to stem the flow of fighters, weapons and funding to the
insurgency in Iraq. Senior Iraqi officials have been more critical of Iran
than Syria, accusing the latter of seeking to undermine the new interim
government in Baghdad.
On Wednesday, an Iraqi government delegation discussed border security
cooperation with Iran. The delegation was said to have been in Teheran for a
week and discussed border security and Iranian interference in Iraq.
Officials said the current operation along the Syrian border could
press Iran to launch measures to stem the flow of insurgents into Iraq.
They said Saddam loyalists have established a network in Syria to train and
fund insurgents to fight the U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi government. The
loyalists were said to have fueled the insurgency in such Sunni Triangle
cities as Faluja, Ramadi and Samara.
In July, Iraq and Syria signed an agreement for border security. But
even as the agreement was announced Iraqi officials expressed doubt whether
the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad would honor the accord.