What Led to U.S. Raid on Syria and What Next

Syrians say the Oct. 26 U.S. commando raid across its border targeting a Qaeda smuggler came as a surprise, ruining what appeared to be a thaw in relations between the two countries. Just two months ago, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met in New York with her Syrian counterpart, Walid Moalem, in the highest-level talks between the two nations since 2005. "She sat with us and said the United States wants to engage with Syria, wants to re-evaluate its relationship," Syria's ambassador to Washington, Imad Moustapha, told NEWSWEEK. "And suddenly this raid happens out of the blue."

But government documents and a recent comment by Commander of U.S. Central Command Gen. David Petraeus suggest the United States had been signaling its frustration with Syria over border issues for some time. Counterterrorism sources say troops taking part in the raid killed a senior Qaeda operative known as Abu Ghadiyah, who allegedly helped smuggle scores of fighters into Iraq for suicide attacks and other operations. Three weeks ago at a meeting of the Association of the U.S. Army, Petraeus said the Abu Ghadiyah problem had been raised often with Damascus. "We have communicated that to them through interlocutors," he said, describing Abu Ghadiyah as a "major foreign fighter facilitator" operating in Syria with "varying degrees of freedom at different times."

A senior military officer told NEWSWEEK that the United States conveyed its message about Abu Ghadiyah to Syria through other countries in the region beginning early this year. Simultaneously, said the officer, who did not want to be named discussing sensitive issues, Petraeus requested permission from the Pentagon to travel to Damascus and meet directly with Syrian leaders. According to the officer, though, "so far the answer has been 'Not yet. Now is not the time'." All three agencies declined requests for comment.