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U.S. Troops Shoot Syrian Guards

U.S. soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division patrol along a street, shortly after troops from the division arrived to provide security and to search for wanted former Saddam Hussein loyalists, in Hawija, northern Iraq, May 20, 2003. Hawija is known by many Iraqis to have been a major base for Baath Party loyalists and an area base of operation for Iraqi secret police.
AP
U.S. special forces shot and captured several Syrian border guards during a firefight that broke out as the Americans chased a convoy of suspected Iraqi fugitives last Wednesday.

CBS News National Security Correspondent David Martin reports the U.S. captured five Syrian border guards, three of whom were wounded in an exchange of fire when the American commandos gave chase as one of the SUVs tried to escape across the border into Syria. The U.S. has promised Syria it will return the border guards.

A senior defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, would not say on which side of the Iraq-Syria border the clash occurred. He said it did not appear that any Syrians were killed.

Officials have released few details about the incident. State Department spokesmen did not return telephone queries asking when casualties among the border guards would be returned to Syria and what its effect on U.S.-Syrian relations was likely to be.

Working partly on information from previously captured Iraqis, special operations soldiers attacked the convoy to stop what they believed were high-level fugitives linked to the fallen Iraqi government of President Saddam Hussein, defense officials said.

About 20 people in the convoy were apprehended by the American troops, and most were released after it was determined they did not pose a threat, the senior defense official said.

The official would not disclose nationalities, but he said they were pursued as part of the U.S.-led coalition's effort to "seek out former regime members and leadership."

The official said "routine DNA testing will be done, if appropriate, based on all intelligence gathered." He said a site exploitation team would attempt to collect remains of the dead. He did not know the number killed and would not say how many vehicles were in the convoy.

It was unclear whether human remains had been found as of Monday. Also unclear who shot first in the exchange of fire with the Syrian border guards or the sequence of other events that led to the shooting.

Asked at an afternoon State Department news conference whether diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus were working to send back the Syrians, department spokesman Philip T. Reeker referred the question to the Defense Department.

The senior defense official said he knew of no U.S. government contact with Syria on the issue.

Intelligence that prompted the attack indicated the convoy included a number of higher-level Iraqis, although not necessarily Saddam, other officials said. There was no reason to believe that Saddam was among in the convoy, they said.

The special "Task Force 20" commando team was aided in the attack by fire laid down by an AC-130 gunship and other air support, one official said.

The convoy was traveling a known smuggling route near the city of Qaim. It was unclear whether smugglers were among casualties and how many Iraqis might have been captured or killed.

U.S.-Syrian relations already had been strained over events in Iraq. Earlier this year, U.S. officials threatened sanctions against Syria because of allegations it harbored fleeing members of Saddam's deposed government and provided Iraq with military equipment.