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Al Jazeera English

US 'to Expand Covert Operations'


The United States has expanded secret military activities in the Middle East, Central Asia and east Africa to break militant networks, The New York Times said, citing a military document. (AFP/Getty Images/File/Astrid Riecken)

The commander of the US forces in the Middle East
has signed an order that allows clandestine military activity to
disrupt "terror" groups or counter threats in friendly and hostile
nations, The New York Times says.

General David Petraeus, head of the US Central Command, signed the
secret directive on on September 30, the paper said quoting defence
officials and military documents.

It said the directive - which allows for covert
strikes outside of designated war zones - authorises the sending of US
special operations troops to the Middle East, Central Asia and the Horn
of Africa to gather intelligence and build ties with local forces.

The seven-page directive, the paper said, appears
to authorise specific operations in Iran, most likely to gather
intelligence about the country's nuclear programme or identify dissident
groups that might be useful for a future military offensive.

Reconnaissance missions

According to the
New York Times
, the order also permits reconnaissance that could
pave the way for possible military strikes in Iran if tensions over its
nuclear ambitions escalate.

It said
that officials said that though the administration of George Bush, the
former US president, had approved some clandestine military activities
far from designated war zones, the new order was intended to make such
efforts more systematic and long term.

The paper said the order seeks to build networks that could
"penetrate, disrupt, defeat or destroy" al-Qaeda and other
"terror" groups.

It also seeks to "prepare the environment" for future attacks by US
or local military forces.

But the order does not appear to
authorise offensive strikes in any specific countries, the paper said.


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In recent years the US has sought to
break its dependence on the Central Intelligence Agency and other spy
agencies for information in countries without a significant US troop
presence, according to the New York Times.

It said Petraeus's order is meant for small teams of US troops to
fill intelligence gaps about terror organisations plotting attacks
against Washington.

Risky venture

But some defence department officials, the paper said, 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 co-operation - or incite
the anger of hostile nations like Iran and Syria," the New York
Times reported.

"Many in the military are also concerned that as US 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 afforded military detainees."

The paper said the precise operations that the directive authorises
are unclear and that what the military has done to follow through on the
order is not certain.

The paper did not name several government officials who described the
impetus for the order saying the document is classified.

It said spokesmen for the White House and the Pentagon declined to
comment on the signing of the order.


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