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 US war against Al Qaeda and other radical groups, according to senior military and administration officials.
Special Operations forces have grown both in numbers 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 pre-emptive 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 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 criticised from either side of the political spectrum for too much or too little aggression, the unacknowledged CIA drone attacks in Pakistan, along with unilateral US 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.”
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