The US military incursion into Syria was aimed at the senior leader of al Qaeda's extensive network that funnels foreign fighters, weapons, and cash from Syria into Iraq, a senior intelligence official told The Long War Journal.
US special operations hunter-killer teams entered Syria in an attempt to capture Abu Ghadiya, a senior al Qaeda leader who has been in charge of the Syrian network since 2005. US intelligence analysts identified Ghadiya as the leader of the Syrian network, The Washington Post reported in July. Ghadiya was identified as a “major target” by the US military in February 2008.
When I first heard that Special Forces had actually infiltrated and dismounted from their gunships for this raid, my first thought was that we had received some extremely credible intel on the location of some very important AQI figure, possibly even AQI leader Abu Ayyub al Masri himself. There was simply no other explanation for not just launching a hellfire or five down a chimney. This post from the invaluable FormerSpook at "In From The Cold" echoed my suspicions.
Excellent as it would have been to capture or kill al Masri, this is just about as good. Capturing or eliminating someone like Ghadiya, while he was strolling free and unworried on Syrian soil would accomplish several ends at once.
First, it would deal a severe blow to the organizational and command structure of what remains of AQI. You can rightly make the "Hydra-head" argument here, but it would only go so far; the capacity for an embattled organization like AQI to continually replenish its senior-most commanders and facilitators is finite. The loss of organizational memory and continuity which such merciless attrition inflicts will have a cumulative effect on an organization's ability to integrate its activities and stay anywhere near inside the decision cycle of its enemies. Its activities will fragment, its operational security will degrade (yielding more actionable intelligence, and thus accelerating the cycle), and the degree to which it is able to attract recruits will erode in much the way that the oft-quoted character from The Sun Also Rises went broke..."gradually, and then suddenly."
Next, a raid into Syrian territory would send a message to Syrian president Assad that there are costs associated with continuing his policy of winking at the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq. Although that flow has slowed to a relative trickle over the last year or so (but don't say the Surge worked!), it is a particularly toxic trickle. The tacit (?) complicity of the Damascus regime in the continued flow of terroristic Jihadis into northwestern Iraq had greatly complicated the pacification and reconstruction of that region, and it is high time that it encountered consequences. For, despite the predictable plume of propaganda which rises from any such bold action, the fact is that such a highly politically dangerous operation --which would have had to be approved at a very high level-- would not have been undertaken unless there were rock-solid intel which supported the taking of such risk. Much like last September's Israeli strike on what is generally believed to have been an unfinished Syrian nuclear reactor site, this operation is a signal to Assad that others are, indeed, paying attention to his actions, and that there are limits to how far he can push without experiencing push-back. Given the renowned Syrian penchant for gamesmanship, such firm limits are absolutely essential.
On yet another geopolitical level, an action like today's raid puts a prominent punctuation mark on efforts to drive a wedge between Damascus and Tehran. There are definite carrots dangling before Assad's eyes (the potential return of the Golan Heights, via some sort of negotiated settlement with Israel, for example). But the sticks which would drop on his head if he should be less than comprehensive in his divorce from the Mullahcracy do bear emphasizing. One of the Iranian regime's most potent weapons (given how "tiny" a country it is...) is its ability to forward-deploy Hezbollah operatives into a variety of theaters. Since Hezbollah is very much a creature of Lebanon and Syria (though nurtured and funded from Tehran), a schism between Syria and Iran would drain much of the mojo from that organization in its capacity as unconventional forces of the Islamic Republic.
Finally, this action further emphasizes the fundamental continuity between the various theaters of operation within the Long War. Reading about the raid into Syria, I was reminded of nothing else so much as the various similar raids and strikes into Pakistani territory, in an effort to attack AQ Prime and its Taliban lapdogs. At the most fundamental level, the two areas of operation are as contiguous on a strategic level as they are distant on the tactical. This last is a reality which is, alas, all-too often obscured to score political points, amid much nonsense about where the "Real Enemy" resides. The Real Enemy resides wherever the ideology of Radical Islamism takes up arms to expand its purchase in the world. The task of our generation is to beat it back wherever it so asserts itself.
I fear the time may soon come when we will look back wistfully on the days when we lived in a Nation which would take bold risks such as these to protect our allies and ourselves. As of this writing, there is still just a bit of time to weigh the real risks, to decisively reject the pious pontifications of addle-headed amnesiacs, and to keep us on the offensive against the evil (there, I said it!) arrayed against us.
(UPDATED to airbrush several small but irksome spelling and minor structural errors from wee-hours blogging)