Franks Details Raid Near Syrian Line


Disclosing new details of a mysterious Special Operations attack on a convoy crossing from Iraq into Syria, Gen. Tommy R. Franks said today that the mission had sought to kill suspected leaders of the ousted government and might also have closed a smugglers' route used by fugitive Iraqi officials.

General Franks, who stepped down this week as chief of the United States Central Command, said intelligence reports indicated that the route and border crossing had allowed members of Saddam Hussein's government to flee Iraq.

The route, which the general called "a rat line," provided "a way that guys got in and out" of Iraq over the Syrian border.

During the attack on June 18, helicopters, AC-130 gunships and ground troops struck a housing compound in a village not far from the Syrian border, as well as the Iraqi convoy at a crossing point. American officials previously said the attack, carried out by Task Force 20, a Special Operations force, had been based on information that the convoy was linked to fugitive Iraqi leaders.

In a brief interview today during a break in Congressional testimony, General Franks said the military had spotted a number of vehicles at the compound, and then tracked several vehicles to the Syrian border.

He said the military had also spotted a number of other vehicles gathering on the Syrian side of the border, apparently to "link up to the vehicles on the other side." The vehicles waiting in Syria were viewed as evidence of planning and communications across the border.

General Franks said the identities of those killed in the convoy attack or any who might have escaped remained unknown. He declined to speculate on who was in the vehicles, although he expressed doubts that they included either Mr. Hussein or his two sons.

The general expressed satisfaction with the attack, regardless of whether the convoy's passengers were Hussein supporters, their families or even those operating the smuggling route used by fugitive Iraqi leaders.

"It was a really good mission," he said.

Few details of the mission have been disclosed in the rather brief official comments issued from the Pentagon.

The American military last week released five Syrian border guards wounded in the attack, despite what senior military officials described as "circumstantial" evidence that they were helping Iraqis escape.

Officers at the Central Command had delayed releasing the Syrians for several days, partly because civilians at the Pentagon wanted the guards to be questioned more extensively, military officials said.

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