WASHINGTON (AFP) — US special forces have conducted nearly a dozen secret operations against Al-Qaeda in Syria, Pakistan and other countries under a broad 2004 mandate approved by President George W. Bush, The New York Times reported Monday.
Neither the White House nor the Pentagon disputed the story, which cited senior US officials as sources.
The Pentagon would not comment on the specifics of the report but acknowledged that the US military seeks to capture or kill terrorists wherever they plot, operate and seek safe havens.
"We work with partners around the world to identify, seek, capture, kill if necessary, terrorists and their networks, where they plan their operations, where they conduct their operations, where they seek safe harbor," spokesman Bryan Whitman said.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters she could not discuss US methods of going after Al-Qaeda.
"What I can tell you is that we're committed to doing so and bringing them to justice one way or the other," she said.
A CIA spokesman also declined to comment on the story, which said that some military operations were closely coordinated with the CIA while others, like an October 26 raid in Syria, were in support of the spy agency's operations.
The recent Syria raid, reportedly one of several since the Iraq war began in 2003, targeted a prominent Al-Qaeda smuggler of foreign fighters into Iraq.
But a senior US military commander told reporters Monday the flow of fighters across the Syrian border was low before the raid, and there has been little impact since on the border situation.
"There was no drop-off, because we really weren't seeing a foreign fighter back-and-forth," said Marine Corps Major General Martin Post, deputy commander of the US forces in western Iraq.
The helicopter borne assault, which reportedly killed eight people, angered Syria, which called it a "criminal and terrorist aggression."
The Times said a classified order authorizing the military to attack Al-Qaeda anywhere in the world, even in countries not a war with the United States, was approved by Bush and signed by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in 2004.
Under this authority, a Navy Seal team raided a suspected Islamic militant compound in the Bajaur region of Pakistan in 2006, The Times said, citing a former top CIA official.
Military planners watched the entire attack "live" at CIA headquarters in Virginia through a video camera installed on a Predator aircraft that was sent to the area, the paper said.
There is no information about the remaining secret military strikes, but officials made clear the list of targets did not include Iran, The Times pointed out.
The paper said, however, that US forces had carried out reconnaissance missions in Iran using other classified directives.
About a dozen additional operations have been canceled in the past four years because they were deemed too risky, too diplomatically explosive or relied on insufficient evidence, the paper said.
Before the 2004 order, the Pentagon needed to get approval for missions on a case-by-case basis, which could take days, the paper recalled.
But Rumsfeld was not satisfied with the status-quo and pressed hard for permission to use military power automatically outside the combat zones of Iraq and Afghanistan, according to The Times.
The paper says the 2004 order identifies 15 to 20 countries, including Syria, Pakistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and several other Persian Gulf states, where Al-Qaeda was believed to be operating or had sought sanctuary.
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