WASHINGTON - The top U.S. military commander in the Middle East signed a secret order in late 2009 that set the stage for an increase in covert operations to counter militants and other threats across the region, defence officials said Tuesday.
Gen. David Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command, signed an order in September authorizing Special Operations forces to deploy to both allied and hostile nations in the Mideast, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa to conduct surveillance missions and partner with local forces, two officials said on condition of anonymity because it involves clandestine forces.
The seven-page order also appears to authorize specific operations in Iran, most likely to gather intelligence about the country's nuclear program or identify dissident groups that might be useful for a future military offensive, according to The New York Times, which first disclosed the directive in Tuesday editions. Also citing anonymous sources, the newspaper said that the new order does not authorize offensive action, but rather its goal is to build new networks to "penetrate, disrupt, defeat or destroy" militant groups, including al-Qaida, and "prepare the environment" for future attacks.
As such, the Joint Unconventional Warfare Task Force Execute Order of Sept. 30 to a large extent is aimed at codifying established activities — some of which have been under way for years — and more systematically align them and fund them under Central Command's special operations component, one defence official said.
One such major escalation in the region is the work already under way with Yemen, the country where al-Qaida linked militants planned the failed Christmas Day airliner attack over Detroit by the so-called underwear bomber. In that case, the Defence Department plans to more than double to $150 million this year the money spent on helicopters, weapons and other counterterrorism efforts to help local security forces go after the group al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
Aside from that expansion, it was unclear Tuesday precisely what other operations or missions in recent months might have stemmed from the new order.
MS: Need to know basis - and well, you don't need to know.