Now I am sure of it. First, watch this:
Notice a couple of things:
1) the footage of the attack was shot in daylight. That is *not* how you would conduct any real anti-insurgency raid (they happen at night). From the footage one can only conclude that even small arms fire (nevermind MANPADs) could have easily taken out these helicopters (had any insurgent force been there to begin with, of course).
2) there appears to be absolutely no Syrian censorship of any kind: footage is freely shown, eyewitnesses are interviewed. This is not at all how the Syrian regime and its paranoid security and intelligence services would handle the situation if anything remotely important had been located there.
3) The Syrian representative to the UN confirmed the "two helicopters and eight man" figures. Earlier reports spoke of four helicopters which leads me to believe that we are talking about 2 helicopters landing the soldiers and two more providing cover from the air. This is wholly inadequate for a real counter-insurgency operation which would have required a far more substantial force to cover the inserted soldiers.
4) The official reaction is totally atypical. Normally, there would be an orgy of triumphalist statements about how "top al-Qaeda leaders" were killed and about how is "brilliantly executed" operations "sends a message" to "all terrorists and enemies of freedom worldwide" that the USA will "lead the world against the scourge of terrorism" anywhere where the terrorists hide. Instead: 'no comment'. What do you mean, 'no comment'?! You just attacked a sovereign country and you have no comments at all to justify this?!
There is no doubt in my mind that this is yet another monumental screw-up, probably at the local commander level. Also, US intelligence is notoriously poor (they almost never seem to get their targets right) and most of its human intelligence is acquired through very crude and ineffective means (money and torture).
Boundless arrogance, imperial hubris, racism towards the "hadjis" (AYE-rabs, ragheads, gooks, indjuns, niggers, etc. etc. etc.), poor intelligence and political pressure to achieve some "results" are all the trademark of the long list of failed US counterinsurgency operations in history.
The latest one just goes to show that nothing has changed.
UPDATE: I just found the first "explanation" for the US raid. In the Jerusalem Post. Here is what it says:
A US counterterrorism official said American forces killed the head of a Syrian network that funneled fighters, weapons and cash into Iraq.
The raid Sunday targeted the home of Abu Ghadiyah, the nickname for the leader of a key cell of foreign fighters in Iraq, according to the US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence. The US Treasury Department has identified him as one of four major figures in al-Qaida's Iraq wing who were living in Syria.
Also Monday, a villager said US forces grabbed two men and took them away by helicopter during the cross-border raid
Now that is typical stuff. First, its all hush hush, super secret you understand, so no sources other than unidentified US officials "speaking on condition of anonymity". Second, not only did the Americans kill a "top al-Qaeda" leader (they are ALL "top al-Qaeda leaders" you understand), but they even seized two (presumed) insurgents.
Now ask yourself a simple question: if you wanted to seize a "top al-Qaeda leader" which presumably would be protected by a bunch of well-armed and well-trained "al-Qaeda terrorists" - would you send four choppers in broad daylight when you could not only get easily shot down, but when your intended target might be moving around?!
Of course not.
If you wanted to kill somebody an airstrike would do just fine (and would not put your soliders at risk). If you wanted to seize somebody you would do it in the night when your target is stationary, your force protected, your insertion hidden and your chance to get in and out before anyone reacts is maximized.
This official verison is utter nonsense.