The Washington Post reported in a front-page story Friday that under President Barack Obama "Special Operations forces have grown both in number and budget, and are deployed in 75 countries, compared with about 60 at the beginning of last year."[1]  --  "Obama, one senior military official said, has allowed 'things that the previous administration did not,'" Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe said.  --  But the legal authority for what Obama is doing is dubious in the extreme:  while "[t]he Obama administration . . . has based its lethal operations on the authority Congress gave the president in 2001 to use 'all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons' he determines 'planned, authorized, committed, or aided' the Sept. 11 attacks," "[m]any of those currently being targeted, [John B. Bellinger III, a senior legal adviser in both of Bush's administrations] said, 'particularly in places outside Afghanistan,' had nothing to do with the 2001 attacks."  --  On Saturday the Times of London also reported that Obama's "aggressive secret war."[2]  --  AP reported Friday that the U.S. is spending "as much as $100 million" to "expand its Special Operations headquarters in northern Afghanistan."[3]  --  Anne Flaherty said that "Ken McGraw, a spokesman for U.S. Special Operations Command, on Friday confirmed that Special Operations forces are now operating in about 73 countries -- compared to 68 last year."  --  "Obama's 2011 budget plan calls for a 6 percent increase in the Special Operations Command's budget, from $9 billion in 2010 to $9.8 billion in 2011."  --  Also on Friday, Max Fisher of the Atlantic said that while expandint JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command), Barack Obama has also "increased oversight and ended the Bush-era practice running secret military operations directly from the presidential and vice president offices."[4]  --  Under Obama, Fisher said, "the command of special operations has now been splintered and folded into the traditional chain of command, where it is overseen by regional military commanders as well as the State Department," bringing an end to what Seymour Hersh described as "kill squads" operating at the behest of Vice President Dick Cheney....



National security news


By Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe

Washington Post

June 4, 2010
Page A01

Beneath its commitment to soft-spoken diplomacy and beyond the combat zones of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Obama administration has significantly expanded a largely secret U.S. war against al-Qaeda and other radical groups, according to senior military and administration officials.

Special Operations forces have grown both in number and budget, and are deployed in 75 countries, compared with about 60 at the beginning of last year. In addition to units that have spent years in the Philippines and Colombia, teams are operating in Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia.

Commanders are developing plans for increasing the use of such forces in Somalia, where a Special Operations raid last year killed the alleged head of al-Qaeda in East Africa.  Plans exist for preemptive or retaliatory strikes in numerous places around the world, meant to be put into action when a plot has been identified, or after an attack linked to a specific group.

The surge in Special Operations deployments, along with intensified CIA drone attacks in western Pakistan, is the other side of the national security doctrine of global engagement and domestic values President Obama released last week.

One advantage of using "secret" forces for such missions is that they rarely discuss their operations in public.  For a Democratic president such as Obama, who is criticized from either side of the political spectrum for too much or too little aggression, the unacknowledged CIA drone attacks in Pakistan, along with unilateral U.S. raids in Somalia and joint operations in Yemen, provide politically useful tools.

Obama, one senior military official said, has allowed "things that the previous administration did not."


Special Operations commanders have also become a far more regular presence at the White House than they were under George W. Bush's administration, when most briefings on potential future operations were run through the Pentagon chain of command and were conducted by the defense secretary or the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"We have a lot more access," a second military official said.  "They are talking publicly much less but they are acting more.  They are willing to get aggressive much more quickly."

The White House, he said, is "asking for ideas and plans . . . calling us in and saying, 'Tell me what you can do.  Tell me how you do these things.' "

The Special Operations capabilities requested by the White House go beyond unilateral strikes and include the training of local counterterrorism forces and joint operations with them.  In Yemen, for example, "we are doing all three," the official said. Officials who spoke about the increased operations were not authorized to discuss them on the record.

The clearest public description of the secret-war aspects of the doctrine came from White House counterterrorism director John O. Brennan.  He said last week that the United States "will not merely respond after the fact" of a terrorist attack but will "take the fight to al-Qaeda and its extremist affiliates whether they plot and train in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and beyond."

That rhetoric is not much different than Bush's pledge to "take the battle to the enemy . . . and confront the worst threats before they emerge."  The elite Special Operations units, drawn from all four branches of the armed forces, became a frontline counterterrorism weapon for the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

But Obama has made such forces a far more integrated part of his global security strategy.  He has asked for a 5.7 percent increase in the Special Operations budget for fiscal 2011, for a total of $6.3 billion, plus an additional $3.5 billion in 2010 contingency funding.

Bush-era clashes between the Defense and State departments over Special Operations deployments have all but ceased.  Former defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld saw them as an independent force, approving in some countries Special Operations intelligence-gathering missions that were so secret that the U.S. ambassador was not told they were underway.  But the close relationship between Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is said to have smoothed out the process.

"In some places, we are quite obvious in our presence," Adm. Eric T. Olson, head of the Special Operations Command, said in a speech.  "In some places, in deference to host-country sensitivities, we are lower in profile.  In every place, Special Operations forces activities are coordinated with the U.S. ambassador and are under the operational control of the four-star regional commander."


Gen. David H. Petraeus at the Central Command and others were ordered by the Joint Staff under Bush to develop plans to use Special Operations forces for intelligence collection and other counterterrorism efforts, and were given the authority to issue direct orders to them.  But those orders were formalized only last year, including in a CENTCOM directive outlining operations throughout South Asia, the Horn of Africa and the Middle East.

The order, whose existence was first reported by the *New York Times*, includes intelligence collection in Iran, although it is unclear whether Special Operations forces are active there.

The Tampa-based Special Operations Command is not entirely happy with its subordination to regional commanders and, in Afghanistan and Iraq, to theater commanders.  Special Operations troops within Afghanistan had their own chain of command until early this year, when they were brought under the unified direction of the overall U.S. and NATO commander there, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, and his operational deputy, Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez.

"Everybody working in CENTCOM works for Dave Petraeus," a military official said.  "Our issue is that we believe our theater forces should be under a Special Operations theater commander, instead of . . . Rodriguez, who is a conventional [forces] guy who doesn't know how to do what we do."

Special Operations troops train for years in foreign cultures and language, and consider themselves a breed apart from what they call "general purpose forces."  Special Operations troops sometimes bridle at ambassadorial authority to "control who comes in and out of their country," the official said.  Operations have also been hindered in Pakistan -- where Special Operations trainers hope to nearly triple their current deployment to 300 -- by that government's delay in issuing the visas.

Although pleased with their expanded numbers and funding, Special Operations commanders would like to devote more of their force to global missions outside war zones.  Of about 13,000 Special Operations forces deployed overseas, about 9,000 are evenly divided between Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Eighty percent of our investment is now in resolving current conflicts, not in building capabilities with partners to avoid future ones," one official said.


The force has also chafed at the cumbersome process under which the president or his designee, usually Gates, must authorize its use of lethal force outside war zones.  Although the CIA has the authority to designate targets and launch lethal missiles in Pakistan's western tribal areas, attacks such as last year's in Somalia and Yemen require civilian approval.

The United Nations, in a report this week, questioned the administration's authority under international law to conduct such raids, particularly when they kill innocent civilians.  One possible legal justification -- the permission of the country in question -- is complicated in places such as Pakistan and Yemen, where the governments privately agree but do not publicly acknowledge approving the attacks.

Former Bush officials, still smarting from accusations that their administration overextended the president's authority to conduct lethal activities around the world at will, have asked similar questions.  "While they seem to be expanding their operations both in terms of extraterritoriality and aggressiveness, they are contracting the legal authority upon which those expanding actions are based," said John B. Bellinger III, a senior legal adviser in both of Bush's administrations.

The Obama administration has rejected the constitutional executive authority claimed by Bush and has based its lethal operations on the authority Congress gave the president in 2001 to use "all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons" he determines "planned, authorized, committed, or aided" the Sept. 11 attacks.

Many of those currently being targeted, Bellinger said, "particularly in places outside Afghanistan," had nothing to do with the 2001 attacks.


World news

U.S. & Americas news


By Tim Reid and Michael Evans

Times Online (London)
June 5, 2010

President Obama has secretly sanctioned a huge increase in the number of U.S. special forces carrying out search-and-destroy missions against al-Qaeda around the world, with American troops now operating in 75 countries.

The dramatic expansion in the use of special forces, which in their global span go far beyond the covert missions authorised by George W. Bush, reflects how aggressively the President is pursuing al-Qaeda behind his public rhetoric of global engagement and diplomacy.

When Mr. Obama took office U.S. special forces were operating in fewer than 60 countries.  In the past 18 months he has ordered a big expansion in Yemen and the Horn of Africa -- known areas of strong al-Qaeda activity -- and elsewhere in the Middle East, central Asia, and Africa.

According to the *Washington Post*, Mr Obama has also approved pre-emptive special forces strikes to disrupt terror plots, and has given the units powers and authority that was not granted by Mr. Bush when he occupied the White House.

It also emerged yesterday that Robert Gates, the U.S. defense secretary, has ordered the Pentagon to find savings of more than $100 billion (£68 billion) over the next five years to redistribute more funds for combat forces -- including special operations units.  Mr. Gates has called on all departments to come up with proposals by July 31, and is initially demanding $7 billion in cuts and efficiencies for the 2012 fiscal year, and further cuts each year up to 2016.

The effort to provide more money for combat forces in Afghanistan and Iraq -- including special operations units -- is likely to lead to a clash with Congress, and also with the defense industry if favoured equipment programs are scrapped.

The aggressive secret war against al-Qaeda and other radical groups has coincided with a surge in the number of U.S. drone attacks in the lawless border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan, an al-Qaeda and Taliban haven, since Mr. Obama took office.

Just weeks after he entered the White House, the number of missile strikes from the CIA-operated unmanned drones significantly increased, and the pattern has remained.  In Iraq, U.S. forces have killed 34 out of the top 42 al-Qaeda operatives in the past 90 days alone.

General Ray Odierno, the U.S. commander in Baghdad, disclosed yesterday that special forces had penetrated the al-Qaeda headquarters in Mosul in northern Iraq, which had helped them to target key figures involved in financing and recruiting .

Mr. Obama has asked for a 5.7 per cent increase in the Special Operations budget for the 2011 fiscal year -- a total of $6.3 billion -- on top of an additional $3.5 billion he requested this year.

Of about 13,000 U.S. special forces deployed overseas, about 9,000 are evenly divided between Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Their use, and the increase in drone attacks, is a strategy that has been strongly advocated by Joe Biden, the Vice-President, but criticized by the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Hundreds of civilians have died in special operations.  A report last week revealed that the top U.S. commander in the Middle East had signed an order last September authorizing a big expansion of clandestine military missions in the region, and also in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Somalia.

General David Petraeus signed the Joint Unconventional Warfare Task Force Executive Order on September 30.  In the three months that followed there was a surge of special operations troops into Yemen, where U.S. operatives are now training local forces.

Since then, U.S. military specialists working with Yemeni armed forces are said to have killed six out of 15 leaders of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.  The raids followed reports linking the group to the murder of 13 Americans at Fort Hood, Texas, and the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a Northwest Airlines jet.

The order also allowed for U.S. special forces to enter Iran to gather intelligence for a possible future military strike if tensions over its alleged nuclear weapons program escalate dramatically.

The seven-page document states that the surge is designed to build networks that could “penetrate, disrupt, defeat, or destroy” al-Qaeda and other militant groups, and to “prepare the environment” for future military strikes by U.S. and local forces.

• President Obama is reported to have chosen a U.S. intelligence veteran, retired General James Clapper, as his new Director of National Intelligence.  General Clapper, whose nomination comes at a time of mounting domestic terror threats, would replace Dennis Blair, who stepped down last month amid heavy criticism over a string of security lapses.


Nov. 2002 --
Hellfire missile fired from a drone at a car in northwest Yemen kills six al-Qaeda fighters, including Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi, aide to Osama bin Laden and the planner of the bomb attack on USS Cole

Jan. 2006 -- Missile attack on village of Damadola, Pakistan, kills 18 Pakistani villagers -- but not the target, al-Qaeda’s No2, Ayman al-Zawahiri

June 2006 -- Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Qaeda’s top man in Iraq, killed along with 18 others when a house near Baghdad is bombed by U.S. jets

Dec. 2008 -- Six members of the Afghan police force killed in exchange of friendly fire with U.S. special forces near the city of Qalat

Sep. 2009 -- Four helicopter gunships open fire on a convoy in Barawe, Somalia, killing four Islamic insurgents, including Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, linked to al-Qaeda

Source: Times archives



By Anne Flaherty

Associated Press
June 4, 2010

WASHINGTON -- The Army is planning to spend as much as $100 million to expand its Special Operations headquarters in northern Afghanistan, evidence of its increasing reliance on covert operations.

The project is one of many in the Obama administration, as it seeks billions in budget increases to counter expanded terror threats from abroad.  It also comes as thousands of U.S. troops arrive in Afghanistan as part of President Barack Obama's ordered buildup.

According to a contracting notice posted on a government Web site, the compound in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif will include housing for personnel, a training area, medical aid station and tactical operations center.  News of the new center was first reported by Wired Magazine.

U.S. reliance on Special Operations forces has been steadily on the rise since the 2001 terrorist attacks, with its budget growing from $2.2 billion to $9 billion nine years later.

Ken McGraw, a spokesman for U.S. Special Operations Command, on Friday confirmed that Special Operations forces are now operating in about 73 countries -- compared to 68 last year.

Special operations units are trained in specialized warfare skills, like capturing fugitives and conducting sabotage, and they work quietly with the armed forces of small countries.

Nowhere have these skills been considered more valuable than Afghanistan, where U.S. officials are looking to wipe out Taliban strongholds without using the kind of conventional weapons that destroy cities and kill civilians.

Accordingly, the Obama administration -- like the Bush administration -- has relied heavily on these forces and sought to expand their capacity.

In 2006, a high-level strategy document by the Pentagon called for expanding the ranks of special operations forces, including adding five Special Forces battalions and three Army Ranger companies.

Officials say the expansion was necessary to return some Special Forces units -- now consumed by operations in Iraq and Afghanistan -- to countries where they traditionally worked.

Obama's 2011 budget plan calls for a 6 percent increase in the Special Operations Command's budget, from $9 billion in 2010 to $9.8 billion in 2011.

The plan also would add 3,651 more civil affairs and psychological operations forces and 4,027 combat and combat service support troops to the special operations forces by 2015.



By Max Fisher


June 4, 2010

In March 2009, investigative reporter for the New Yorker Seymour Hersh caused a minor controversy by telling an audience in Minnesota that he had uncovered "an executive assassination ring" that the Bush administration operated abroad.  "It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently," he said of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).  "They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office."  While reports for some time have indicated that the Obama administration has continued and even expanded military special operations throughout the world, it is now clear that he has increased oversight and ended the Bush-era practice running secret military operations directly from the presidential and vice president offices.

Since the final years of the Bush administration, JSOC has enjoyed a rapid expansion of duties from intelligence gathering to drone-spotting in Afghanistan to targeting high-value terrorists in places like Somalia and Yemen.  Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, confirmed that Vice President Dick Cheney would personally give orders to JSOC commanders, circumventing many levels of the chain of command.  While the Obama administration has not been accused of similar practices, many reports have shown its increasing use of military special operations through JSOC and through Special Operations Command (SOCOM), which has authority over JSOC.  Recently, the Atlantic reported that President Obama has authorized such operations across the globe, expanding the use of secret warfare and the authority of commanders far beyond that of the Bush administration.

However, Obama has made an important change to the Bush-era use of military special operations.  Rather than operating as a single independent entity run out of the White House, the command of special operations has now been splintered and folded into the traditional chain of command, where it is overseen by regional military commanders as well as the State Department.  The Atlantic reported that regional commanders, such General Patraeus of CENTCOM or General Ward of AFRICOM, now have authority over all special operations within their area of command.  Today the Washington Post reports that the State Department has been granted oversight of the operations, which must be cleared by the local embassy.  (It's unclear who at State, if anyone, would authorize operations in countries where the U.S. has no diplomatic presence, such as Iran.)  This would explain why, in December 2009, the State Department began fielding media inquiries about JSOC.

There are still some reasons to remain skeptical of Obama's expanded secret warfare, which apparently still lacks judicial review for such controversial policies as JSOC's authority to kill at least one American citizen.  Obama's legal authority to launch operations in 75 countries, all but two of which we are not at war with, is also questionable.  However, President Obama appears to have brought important improvements in oversight and to have splintered JSOC's once unilateral authority.  Whatever your feelings on the use of global secret warfare, surely Cheney's so-called "assassination" squads will not be missed.