AL-HERI, Syria – A Syrian general told reporters touring the border with
Iraq on Friday that U.S. forces fired across the frontier five months ago and killed a Syrian soldier during an American military operation.
The Syrians organized the rare tour along the 370-mile border in an apparent attempt to mute U.S. and Iraqi criticism that Damascus had done too little to stop foreign fighters from slipping into Iraq to join the insurgency — a charge Damascus has denied.
At the Pentagon, Army Lt. Col. Barry Venable did not comment on the allegation that a Syrian soldier was killed by U.S. forces in May, but said “the Syrian border with Iraq has been troublesome for some time.”
The United States “will use all the elements of national power to stop al-Qaida from planning and conducting attacks on the United States or U.S. forces around the world,” Venable said.
The Syrian officer, who was dressed in plainclothes and identified himself only as Brig. Gen. Amin, said the Syrian soldier was killed and two others were wounded near a machine gun emplacement on the roof of a border police station on the Syrian side of the village of Baghouz, which is split by a fence separating
Syria and Iraq.
He said the shooting occurred while American forces were conducting a military operation on the Iraqi side of the fence.
The general said he did not know of any American soldiers having strayed into Syria during the war in Iraq. However, he said there have been instances of terrorists moving into Syria from Iraq to set up cells in his country.
Washington and Baghdad have long criticized the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad for not locking down the Syrian side of the border to Islamic extremists opposed to the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.
The Americans ratcheted the pressure on Syria in recent days after a U.N. investigation issued findings that implicated Syrian officials in the February assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
The Syrian general said Damascus has increased border outposts to 557 from 547 since June, with each position staffed by eight to 10 soldiers.
He also said his forces had caught 1,400 infiltrators of “Arab, Islamic and other identities” since the beginning of the Iraq war in 2003. Most had been returned to their native countries, he said.
“Thousands” more Syrians have been stopped entering or leaving Iraq illegally, while 2,500 Iraqis have been returned to Iraq after committing crimes in Syria, he said.
During the tour Friday, U.S. sentries could be seen about 100 yards away from the Al-Heri crossing behind fortifications of sandbags and weighted barrels.
In Juwaijat Hussein, where the Euphrates River crosses the border, Iraqi children played amid sheep grazing along the river. A U.S. warplane flew overhead on a reconnaissance mission.
At one spot along the frontier, an Iraqi shepherd across the fence complained about the war.
“What bothers us the most are the continuous American attacks on our village,” said Asir Hamid, 25, from the village of Sanjak, near the Iraqi border city of Qaim. He said American warplanes attacked the area five days earlier.