US to expand secret military activity in West Asia

US to expand secret military activity in West Asia

Order authorises sending of troops to Iran, Saudi Arabia and Somalia

The secret directive, signed in September by Gen David H Petraeus, authorises the sending of American Special Operations troops to both friendly and hostile nations in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa to gather intelligence and build ties with local forces. Officials said the order also permits reconnaissance that could pave the way for possible military strikes in Iran if tensions over its nuclear ambitions rise.

While the Bush administration had approved some clandestine military activities far from designated war zones, the new order is intended to make such efforts more systematic and long term, officials said. Its goals are to build networks that could “penetrate, disrupt, defeat or destroy” al-Qaeda and other militant groups, as well as to “prepare the environment” for future attacks by American or local military forces, the document said. The order, however, does not appear to authorise offensive strikes in any specific countries.

In broadening its secret activities, the US military has also sought in recent years to break its dependence on the Central Intelligence Agency and other spy agencies for information in countries without a significant American troop presence.

The risks
But some Pentagon officials worry that the expanded role carries risks. The authorised activities could strain relationships with friendly governments like Saudi Arabia or Yemen — which might allow the operations but be loath to acknowledge their cooperation — or incite the anger of hostile nations like Iran and Syria. Many in the military are also concerned that as American troops assume roles far from traditional combat, they would be at risk of being treated as spies if captured and denied the Geneva Convention protections to military detainees.

The precise operations that the directive authorises are unclear, and what the military has done to follow through on the order is uncertain. The document provides few details about continuing missions or intelligence-gathering operations.
The seven-page directive appears to authorise specific operations in Iran, most likely to gather intelligence about the country’s nuclear programme. The Obama administration insists that for the moment, it is committed to penalising Iran for its nuclear activities only with diplomatic and economic sanctions.
The New York Times