Published on Monday, November 10, 2008 by The New York Times
Secret Order Lets US Raid Al Qaeda in Many Countries
by Eric Schmitt and Mark Mazzetti
WASHINGTON - The United States military since 2004 has used broad, secret authority to carry out nearly a dozen previously undisclosed attacks against Al Qaeda and other militants in Syria, Pakistan and elsewhere, according to senior American officials.
The military raids, typically carried out by Special Operations forces, were authorized by a classified order that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld signed in the spring of 2004 with the approval of President Bush, the officials said. (File)
These military raids, typically carried out by Special Operations forces, were authorized by a classified order that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld signed in the spring of 2004 with the approval of President Bush, the officials said. The secret order gave the military new authority to attack the Qaeda terrorist network anywhere in the world, and a more sweeping mandate to conduct operations in countries not at war with the
In 2006, for example, a Navy Seal team raided a suspected militants' compound in the Bajaur region of
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
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.
More than a half-dozen officials, including current and former military and intelligence officials as well as senior Bush administration policy makers, described details of the 2004 military order on the condition of anonymity because of its politically delicate nature. Spokesmen for the White House, the Defense Department and the military declined to comment.
Apart from the 2006 raid into
According to a senior administration official, the new authority was spelled out in a classified document called "Al Qaeda Network Exord," or execute order, that streamlined the approval process for the military to act outside officially declared war zones. Where in the past the Pentagon needed to get approval for missions on a case-by-case basis, which could take days when there were only hours to act, the new order specified a way for Pentagon planners to get the green light for a mission far more quickly, the official said.
It also allowed senior officials to think through how the
The 2004 order was a step in the evolution of how the American government sought to kill or capture Qaeda terrorists around the world. It was issued after the Bush administration had already granted
Shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Bush issued a classified order authorizing the C.I.A. to kill or capture Qaeda militants around the globe. By 2003, American intelligence agencies and the military had developed a much deeper understanding of Al Qaeda's extensive global network, and Mr. Rumsfeld pressed hard to unleash the military's vast firepower against militants outside the combat zones of
The 2004 order identifies 15 to 20 countries, including
Even with the order, each specific mission requires high-level government approval. Targets in
The Pentagon has exercised its authority frequently, dispatching commandos to countries including
For example, shortly after Ethiopian troops crossed into
At the time, American officials said Special Operations troops were operating under a classified directive authorizing the military to kill or capture Qaeda operatives if failure to act quickly would mean the
Occasionally, the officials said, Special Operations troops would land in
But even with the new authority, proposed Pentagon missions were sometimes scrubbed because of bad intelligence or bureaucratic entanglements, senior administration officials said.
The details of one of those aborted operations, in early 2005, were reported by The New York Times last June. In that case, an operation to send a team of the Navy Seals and the Army Rangers into
Mr. Zawahri was believed by intelligence officials to be attending a meeting in Bajaur, in Pakistan's tribal areas, and the Pentagon's Joint Special Operations Command hastily put together a plan to capture him. There were strong disagreements inside the Pentagon and the C.I.A. about the quality of the intelligence, however, and some in the military expressed concern that the mission was unnecessarily risky.
Porter J. Goss, the C.I.A. director at the time, urged the military to carry out the mission, and some in the C.I.A. even wanted to execute it without informing Ryan C. Crocker, then the American ambassador to
Former military and intelligence officials said that Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who recently completed his tour as head of the Joint Special Operations Command, had pressed for years to win approval for commando missions into Pakistan. But the missions were frequently rejected because officials in
Capt. John Kirby, a spokesman for General McChrystal, who is now director of the military's Joint Staff, declined to comment.
The recent raid into Syria was not the first time that Special Operations forces had operated in that country, according to a senior military official and an outside adviser to the Pentagon.
The raid in late October, however, was much more noticeable than the previous raids, military officials said, which helps explain why it drew a sharp protest from the Syrian government.
Negotiations to hammer out the 2004 order took place over nearly a year and involved wrangling between the Pentagon and the C.I.A. and the State Department about the military's proper role around the world, several administration officials said.
American officials said there had been debate over whether to include
Senior officials of the State Department and the C.I.A. voiced fears that military commandos would encroach on their turf, conducting operations that historically the C.I.A. had carried out, and running missions without an ambassador's knowledge or approval.
Mr. Rumsfeld had pushed in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks to expand the mission of Special Operations troops to include intelligence gathering and counterterrorism operations in countries where American commandos had not operated before.
Bush administration officials have shown a determination to operate under an expansive definition of self-defense that provides a legal rationale for strikes on militant targets in sovereign nations without those countries' consent.
Several officials said the negotiations over the 2004 order resulted in closer coordination among the Pentagon, the State Department and the C.I.A., and set a very high standard for the quality of intelligence necessary to gain approval for an attack.
The 2004 order also provided a foundation for the orders that Mr. Bush approved in July allowing the military to conduct raids into the Pakistani tribal areas, including the Sept. 3 operation by Special Operations forces that killed about 20 militants, American officials said.
Administration officials said that Mr. Bush's approval had paved the way for Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to sign an order - separate from the 2004 order - that specifically directed the military to plan a series of operations, in cooperation with the C.I.A., on the Qaeda network and other militant groups linked to it in Pakistan.
Unlike the 2004 order, in which Special Operations commanders nominated targets for approval by senior government officials, the order in July was more of a top-down approach, directing the military to work with the C.I.A. to find targets in the tribal areas, administration officials said. They said each target still needed to be approved by the group of Mr. Bush's top national security and foreign policy advisers, called the Principals Committee.
© 2008 The New York Times
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