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Terrorism & Security

Report confirms 'shadow war' waged by US special forces

A 2004 classified order authorized the military to attack Al Qaeda operatives around the globe. As many as a dozen raids occurred under this mandate.

By Jonathan Adams / November 11, 2008

A New York Times report Monday confirmed the Bush administration's dramatic expansion of the US military's authority to unilaterally hunt down and kill America's enemies across the globe.

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That new authority has been used to conduct nearly a dozen covert raids against suspected terrorist targets on foreign soil since 2004, the article reports.

Based on interviews with military and intelligence officials and senior Bush administration policymakers, The paper's report paints a picture of a shadow war conducted by commando teams from the US special forces' most elite units, often under the control of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). It's a war beamed live via Predator drone cameras to US spy masters in control rooms halfway around the globe, but often invisible to in-the-dark foreign governments.

According to the Times, in the spring of 2004 the Bush administration signed the classified "Al Qaeda Network Exord," which simplified the approval process for US covert military strikes against Al Qaeda and its allies. Before, only the CIA had blanket authorization to go after terrorists abroad and attaining approval for military strikes could take days.

The paper described one such raid, in Pakistan.

In 2006, for example, a Navy Seal team raided a suspected militants' compound in the Bajaur region of Pakistan, according to a former top official of the Central Intelligence Agency. Officials watched the entire mission — captured by the video camera of a remotely piloted Predator aircraft — in real time in the C.I.A.'s Counterterrorist Center at the agency's headquarters in Virginia 7,000 miles away.
Some of the military missions have been conducted in close coordination with the C.I.A., according to senior American officials, who said that in others, like the Special Operations raid in Syria on Oct. 26 of this year, the military commandos acted in support of C.I.A.-directed operations.
But as many as a dozen additional operations have been canceled in the past four years, often to the dismay of military commanders, senior military officials said. They said senior administration officials had decided in these cases that the missions were too risky, were too diplomatically explosive or relied on insufficient evidence.

The article did not specify which foreign countries were covered by the executive order, but said no raids had been conducted in Iran.

All strikes still require approval by the US civilian command, with exact criteria depending on the country. For covert attacks in Somalia, for example, only the defense secretary's approval is required, the report said, whereas attacks inside Syria or Pakistan need the president's sign-off.

Associated Press writer Pamela Hess notes that President-elect Barack Obama will inherit a series of executive orders, including the 2004 order reported by The New York Times, that give the Pentagon and US spy agencies enhanced authority.


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