N.Y. Times: U.S. targeted al-Qaida fighters in Syria, Pakistan and elsewhere
WASHINGTON – The U.S. military has conducted nearly a dozen secret operations against al-Qaida and other terrorist groups in Syria, Pakistan and other countries since 2004, The New York Times reported in Monday editions.
Meantime, Pakistan’s president said he expects U.S. President-elect Barack Obama to re-evaluate American military strikes on al-Qaida and Taliban targets on its side of the Afghan border.
Citing anonymous U.S. officials, the Times story said the operations were authorized by a broad classified order that then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld signed and President Bush approved in spring 2004. The order gave the military authority to attack al-Qaida anywhere in the world and to conduct operations in countries that were not at war with the United States.
One such operation was the Oct. 26 raid inside Syria, the Times reported. Washington hasn’t formally acknowledged the raid, but U.S. officials have said the target was a top al-Qaida in Iraq figure. Syria has asked for proof and said eight civilians were killed in the attack.
In another mission, in 2006, Navy SEALs raided a suspected terrorist compound in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
The raids have typically been conducted by U.S. Special Forces, often in conjunction with the Central Intelligence Agency, the newspaper said. Even though the process has been streamlined, specific missions have to be approved by the defense secretary or, in the cases of Syria and Pakistan, by the president.
A Defense Department spokesman had no comment Sunday night on the Times report.
Pakistan hopes Obama will change course
In an interview with The Associated Press, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari warned that a surge in U.S. missile attacks since August was hurting Pakistan’s own fight against the militants – a campaign he said was succeeding nonetheless.
The U.S. military is believed to have carried out at least 18 missile attacks on suspected militant targets close to the border since August.
The missiles were believed fired from unmanned planes launched in Afghanistan, where some 32,000 U.S. troops are fighting a resurgent Taliban insurgency.
Zardari said Obama would re-examine that strategy, but acknowledged the Democrat – who struck a hawkish tone during the election – may continue the attacks.
“I think there is definitively going to be a new look at all the issues that have been on the table of the United States and this is one of the large issues,” said Zardari.
The attacks have killed some militants, but many of the dead have been civilians, including women and children, stoking anger among locals, Pakistani officials say.
“We feel that the strikes are an intrusion on our sovereignty which are not appreciated by the people at large, and the first aspect of this war is to win the hearts and minds of the people,” Zardari said.
Washington rarely comments on the strikes, but U.S. military Gen. David Petraeus said last week the recent attacks had killed three top extremist leaders.
updated 11:27 a.m. ET Nov. 10, 2008