WASHINGTON The U.S. military since 2004 has used broad secret authority to carry out nearly a dozen previously undisclosed attacks against al-Qaida and other militants in Syria, Pakistan and elsewhere, according to senior U.S. officials.
These military raids, typically carried out by Special Operations forces, were authorized by a classified order that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld signed in the spring of 2004 at the direction of President Bush, the officials said. The order gave the military new authority to attack al-Qaida anywhere in the world and a more sweeping mandate to conduct operations in countries not at war with the United States.
In 2006, for example, a Navy SEAL team raided a suspected militants' compound in the Bajaur region of Pakistan, according to a former top official of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Some of the military missions have been conducted in close coordination with the CIA, according to senior U.S. officials, who said that in others, like the Special Operations raid in Syria on Oct. 26, the military commandos acted in support of CIA-directed operations, senior U.S. officials said.
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But as many as a dozen additional operations have been canceled in the past four years, senior military officials said, because senior administration officials had decided in these cases that the missions were too risky, were too diplomatically explosive or relied on insufficient evidence to justify an attack.
More than a half-dozen officials, including current and former military and intelligence officials, as well as senior Bush administration policymakers, described details of the 2004 order on the condition of anonymity because of its politically delicate nature. Spokesmen for the White House, the Defense Department and the military declined to comment.
Apart from the 2006 raid into Pakistan, the U.S. officials refused to describe what they said had been nearly a dozen previously undisclosed attacks, except to say they had been carried out in Syria, Pakistan and other countries. They made clear that there had been no raids into Iran using that authority, but they suggested U.S. forces had carried out reconnaissance missions in Iran using different directives.
According to a senior administration official, the authority was spelled out in a classified document called “al-Qaida Network Exord,” or execute order, that streamlined the approval process for the military to act outside officially declared war zones. Where in the past the Pentagon needed to obtain approval for missions, which could take days when there were only hours to act, the order specified a way for Pentagon planners to receive permission for a mission far more quickly, the official said.