BAGHDAD ø The United States has been fighting what officials term a
silent war with Syria which killed at least five soldiers over the weekend.
U.S. officials said U.S. Marines have deployed along the Syrian border
to stop the flow of insurgents and equipment to Iraq. They said Marines have
engaged with both Sunni insurgents as well as some Syrian security personnel
along the border in clashes that have intensified over the last few weeks.
The U.S. military presence ø increased by more than a third over the
last two months ø was said to be focused on the western Iraqi towns of Al
Qaim and Qusaybah, regarded as key points in the smuggling of insurgents and
weapons from Syria to Iraq.
Officials acknowledged that at least five
soldiers of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, who replaced the 82nd
Airborne Division, were killed in battle with 150 insurgents in Husaybah
over the weekend, Middle East Newsline reported.
"The Marines did suffer some casualties there," Maj. Gen. John Sattler,
director of operations for U.S. Central Command, said. "But in the end, they
were able to go ahead and calm that area down. I would say the last six,
seven, eight days, we've had some sporadic fighting up in that area, but
very limited casualties on the part of the Marines."
In a briefing on April 16, Sattler outlined the mission of the Marines
along the Syrian border. He said the mission included constant air and
mobile patrols as well as operation of reconnaissance and sensor assets.
Sattler said the Marines have deployed a quick reaction force that
includes helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft for attacks along the Syrian
border. He said the insurgents move through the Syrian border past Al Qaim
to Ramadi and Fallujah. Eventually, he said, many of the insurgents arrive
"It is a large border and at nighttime there's a lot of wadis and places
where individuals can go in and work their way across," Sattler said. "But
once they get across they still have a vast portion of desert to come
through, and we constantly patrol that to either A. deter them because we
are out there in such force, or B. catch them and go ahead and bring them to
U.S. officials said that despite numerous warnings Syria continues to
allow Al Qaida-aligned insurgents to enter Iraq. The officials said Syrian
border guards have been bribed to ignore the infiltration of insurgents into
So far, they said, the Syrian military has not engaged the U.S. Marines
along the Iraqi-Syrian border. But they said in some cases Syrian border
guards were involved in clashes between insurgents and U.S. troops. They did
not report casualties among the Syrian guards.