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Secret War on Terrorism Expands

  • Ira Mellman

Although it is not publicly documented, it appears the United States is increasingly relying on covert actions against the enemy in the War on Terrorism.

One of the first hints of the possible use of covert operations came last May, when John Brennan, Assistant to President Obama for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism spoke to a gathering at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. His topic… the President's National Security Strategy, which was scheduled to be released the next day.

Brennan said the United States would take the fight to al-Qaida and its extremist affiliates wherever they plot and train: in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and beyond. He added, "In all our efforts, we will exercise force prudently, recognizing that we often need to use a scalpel and not a hammer."

VOA sought to get an official government reaction to the reports of expended covert operations. We were told by a U.S. official that "it's hardly a secret that we're engaged in a serious fight against a brutal, determined and adaptive enemy or that we may need to taylor our strategies to keep ahead of them. The threat we face is global, so the response can't be narrow, and we have to rely on all of the tools at our disposal to confront terrorists who are plotting against us and our allies."

Perhaps the most well publicized covert battle is the use of drone aircraft targeting terrorists in Pakistan. But there are also reports of operations is Yemen, in parts of Africa, and in Afghanistan.

Daniel Markey, a Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan and South Asia at the Council for Foreign Relations told VOA that it was his sense that U.S. special forces operations have expanded radically in Afghanistan, although he said it was less clear to him precisely what that has meant for operations in Pakistan.

As to just who is participating in these operations, Markey said it was his sense that there are a range of different American actors involved. Some are contractors, he said, some are definitely special forces, and some fall more in the category of agency, CIA and so on. Insofar as the number of people are involved in the operations, the Council for Foreign Relations scholar said he had no sense for what the absolute numbers are, but from what he had seen and heard, it is a significant upsurge over the past year in Afghanistan.

There are some arguments being made against such covert operations. Some say it fuels anti American rage among local populations, others say it could blur the lines between soldiers and spies, muddying the protections provided by the Geneva Conventions. But there also seems to be growing support for the covert war. One US politician, Congressman Adam Smith, is quoted by The New York Times as saying "for the first time in our history, an entity has declared a covert war against us… and we are using similar elements of American power to respond to that covert war.”

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