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ISN Security Watch January 24, 2006

US says Syrian intelligence aids insurgents

By Carmen Gentile

ISN SECURITY WATCH (24/01/06) - Iraqi insurgents are being trained in the use of shoulder-fired, anti-aircraft missiles by Syrians, according to US intelligence sources.

A group operating just south of Baghdad is said to have close ties with Syrian intelligence and to have received training from them in the use of Russian-made SA-7 surface-to-air missiles, Defensenews reports, citing unnamed military intelligence officials.

The group allegedly being trained by the Syrians is named after its leader, Abu Ayman, a former Iraqi intelligence officer who is being sought by US forces in the Baghdad area.

The Abu Ayman group is mostly comprised of former members of Saddam Hussein's elite Republican Guard and ex-Iraqi intelligence operatives.

Allegations of Syrian involvement in the insurgency are not new, however, interest in a possible Syrian role in Iraq was sparked anew following last week’s attack on a US helicopter, which was shot down by what the US military said was an SA-7 missile.

The missile is considered one of the most common in the world and has been in combat use since the Vietnam War. It was designed to be fired at low-flying targets like helicopters and uses what is called a passive infrared homing guidance system.

Until last Monday’s attack, the missiles, which some allege were looted by insurgents from Iraqi army stores during the second Gulf War, had never been successfully used against US aircraft, said military officials.

“It could be just a lucky shot," said US General John Keane following the attack. "Or it could be that they have invested in a training program and they now have some qualified operators, and that'll be more of a threat than it has been in the past," he said.

That threat could be emanating from neighboring Syria, Defensenews reported, citing Pentagon officials.

Since the beginning of the Iraq war in 2003, the Bush administration has accused Syria of not doing enough to prevent foreign fighters from entering Iraq along their shared border, or to stem the flow of illegal weapons into the country.

Some officials said that the number of helicopters shot down since the beginning of the war - more than two dozen - indicates that insurgents are not relying solely on old Hussein-era stockpiles, but rather are importing new missiles into the country.

Others like military expert and Globalsecurity director John E. Pike see the accusations linking Syria to the insurgents and the SA-7 missiles as another possible way of expanding the 'War on Terror'.

“There’s a crew over at the [US] Defense Department that’s been itching to blow up Syria for some time,” Pike opined during an interview with ISN Security Watch.

He also noted that talk of an alliance between Syrian intelligence and Iraqi insurgents might have been bolstered by two successful attacks on US helicopters in the last month.

“That’s not supposed to happen,” said Pike. “Only the latest and greatest [surface-to-air missiles] would be able to do that.”

Last week, General Keane said there were indications that insurgents had developed what he termed an “aerial IED" (Improvised Explosive Device). These bombs are designed to leap into the sky when an aircraft flies by.

He said insurgents could be making the devices from the remnants of Hussein’s arsenal.

"An aerial IED would be another indication of the enemy's innovation and creativity," said the general.

Pike noted that Iraqi insurgents who served in the military under Hussein had a great deal of experience in operating anti-aircraft artillery and could be drawing on that knowledge to design and build aerial IEDs.


Copyright 2006, The Great Falls Tribune