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IRAQ: Commando raid on Syria raises question of timing

October 26, 2008 |  7:26 pm

Qaimxx

The timing of the reported raid by U.S. special forces on a location in Syria raises an intriguing question.

The Syrian government pinpoints a spot about five miles or so away from the Iraqi community known as Al Qaim.

For five years the Marines used a massive railroad yard at Al Qaim as a major base on the Syrian border.

From there, the Marines and other U.S. military and civilian agencies could watch for insurgents sneaking into Iraq along desert smuggling trails that go back centuries.

Marine squads would fan out into the desert at night to  battle the smugglers. Marines reported artillery attacks launched from Syrian soil, which brought denials from the Syrian ambassador.

This month the Marines formally turned over the railroad yard to the Iraqis, as part of an overall pullback of U.S. forces in Anbar province. A Marine and Iraqi contingent visiting the base Oct. 13 found that it "housed nothing more than a small guard force, train cars rusting on the rails and empty buildings," according to a report in the American Forces Press Service.

No longer operational were the massive chow hall, the housing units, the intelligence-gathering apparatus, the state-of-the-art communications center, and the vehicle and helicopter maintenance facility.

Was the weekend raid a way for the U.S. to warn the insurgents, and their Syrian cohorts, that although the U.S. is retreating from the border, it is still on watch and able to strike?

Coming days may bring the answer. Or not.

-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Marines, Iraqi army officers, and Iraqi and U.S. civilian officers tour the now-abandoned Al Qaim base. Credit: Marine Corps

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