Reportedly frustrated that military operations in and around Afghanistan have reached a plateau without the elimination of Al Qaeda, US Defence Secretary Donald H Rumsfeld is considering sending American Special Operations forces worldwide to capture or kill terrorist leaders, according to Pentagon and intelligence officials.
Proposals now being discussed by Rumsfeld and senior military officers could ultimately lead Special Operations units to get more involved in long-term covert operations in countries where the United States is not at open war and, in some cases, without informing the local government of their presence. Without revealing specifics, the US hawk said the campaign in Afghanistan is now more of a manhunt than a traditional military operation and he wants the skills of US forces brought in line with that duty.
A classified directive issued recently by the Pentagon to the Special Operations Command ordered it to come up with new thinking on how elite counter-terrorism units could be sent to disrupt and destroy enemy assets, administration officials said. The Special Operations forces would be cleared by President George W Bush and Rumsfeld to take the lead, if necessary, in attacking terrorist leaders far beyond Afghanistan. Pentagon officials have tried to justify this expansion of the military’s involvement in covert activities by defining it as “preparation of the battlefield” in a campaign against terrorism that knows no boundaries, according to the New York Times. These proposals could lead the military into conflict with the Central Intelligence Agency since covert operations abroad have traditionally been conducted by the Agency under tightly controlled legal conditions set out by the president in secret “findings,” which are then closely monitored by Congress.
Moreover, the discussion whether to give Special Operations forces missions to capture or kill individual Qaeda leaders may at some point conflict with the executive order prohibiting assassinations. In past administrations, there was a clear effort to distinguish between the combat activities carried out by Special Operations forces and missions handled by the CIA. But since the terror network attacked the United States on September 11, creating a state of armed conflict, officials have called for greater cooperation among US law enforcement, intelligence and military officials.
CIA Director George J Tenet is described as not opposing the proposals, and one Pentagon official was quoted as saying discussions were under way with the intelligence sector on how to work out new arrangements between Special Operations forces and the CIA. In the United States military, two highly secretive groups are designated for counter-terrorism missions: the Army Special Operations unit known as Delta Force, and the Naval Special Warfare unit known as SEAL Team 6.
Fearing that nuclear, biological and chemical weapons may fall in the hands of terrorists, those two units have been assigned with a second specialised mission: counter-proliferation. While the US military does not deny the existence of those units, it also does not officially confirm their operations. (651)