by Michael Kelley, April 03 2013
Iraqi officials requested U.S. drones strikes near their border after al-Qaeda-linked jihadists ambushed a Syrian convoy in Iraq earlier this month, Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Diaa Hadid of the Associated Press report.
The CIA is already collecting intelligence on the same militants in Syria for possible drone strikes, U.S. officials recently told Ken Dilanian and Brian Bennett of the Los Angeles Times.
Micah Zenko, a research fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, writes that “President Obama should also ask himself if the United States wants to open up a fifth front in its campaign of non-battlefield targeted killings, outside of Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and The Philippines.”
Syria would make that six. And as far as the U.S. State Department is concerned, the extremists on the border fall under the umbrella of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), including those who killed 48 Syrian soldiers and eight Iraqis as well as the dominant Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra.
The LA Times notes that CIA targeting officers for Syria “have formed a unit with colleagues who were tracking Al Qaeda operatives and fighters in Iraq.”
Two Iraqi intelligence officials told the AP that the jihadi groups are sharing temporary military training camps in desert valleys along the 375-mile Syrian-Iraqi border, adding that militants in Syria were increasingly crossing into Iraq.
“For these guys,” one regional security analyst told the AP, “the border between Iraq and Syria is not even a real thing.”
Deemed terrorists by the State Department, Jabhat al-Nusra controls much of northeast Syria, including the city of al Raqqa, which is the sixth largest city in Syria and the first to fall into rebel hands.
The convoy attack seemingly confirmed the sharing of logistics, intelligence, and weapons between the groups.
A U.S. official official told the AP that the U.S. was waiting to respond to Iraq until the top level of Iraqi leadership makes a formal request.
A former CIA officer who worked in Iraq put it another way to the LA times:
“If we do this, why don’t we start droning people in [the Iran-backed Lebanese militant group] Hezbollah? It opens the door for a lot of other things.”