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U.S. contacts Syria on Iraqi border security

Concern mounts about insurgent attacks

From Barbara Starr
CNN Washington Bureau

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States recently approached Syria and stressed the need to secure its border with Iraq, a senior U.S. defense official said.

State Department and Pentagon officials discussed the matter in a recent visit to Syria, the official said. The Syrians responded by agreeing with the U.S. concern, the official said, but it is unclear yet if any action will be taken.

There's no indication this effort will result in joint border patrols with the Syrians, though there could be more communication between troops on each side of the border.

The contact is the latest in a series of U.S. efforts to secure more Syrian government control of the remote border with Iraq.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has complained for months about lack of Syrian cooperation.

At the same time, the official said there is increased concern about the latest series of attacks against U.S. and coalition forces as well as attacks against Iraqis.

"The attacks over the last couple of weeks have been fewer, but more severe, sophisticated and lethal," the official said.

For example, he said, one recent strike near Falluja, a volatile city west of Baghdad, began with a mortar and rocket attack. That was followed immediately by use of an improvised explosive device and then an attack with weapons operated by two or more enemy personnel.

Intelligence indicates Iraqis are learning by watching U.S. operations, the official said. These recent Iraqi tactics indicate that insurgents watch for soldiers or others grouping around an initial attack site and then strike again.

He also noted that improvised explosive devices are targeted at larger groups of people, particularly security forces.

About 100,000 Iraqi security forces are considered fully trained and equipped, according to the Pentagon. That number is under half of the total 220,000 Iraqi security force.

The defense official also said about 230 of the 600 American military personnel required for the U.S.-led training mission for Iraqi security forces are in place.

Full staffing of the headquarters may not be completed until mid-November, weeks before the elections set for January in Iraq.

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