Washington, May 25 (ANI): US Central Command chief, General David H. Petraeus, has reportedly ordered a broad expansion of clandestine military activity in the Middle East to disrupt militant groups or counter threats in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and other countries in the region.
The New York Times quoted defense officials and military documents, as saying that the secret directive, signed in September, authorizes the sending of American Special Operations troops to both friendly and hostile nations in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa to gather intelligence and build ties with local forces.
The seven-page directive appears to authorize specific operations in Iran, most likely to gather intelligence about the country's nuclear program or identify dissident groups that might be useful for a future military offensive.
The Obama administration insists that for the moment, it is committed to penalizing Iran for its nuclear activities only with diplomatic and economic sanctions.
Nevertheless, the Pentagon has to draw up detailed war plans to be prepared in advance, in the event that President Obama ever authorizes a strike.
Officials said the order also permits reconnaissance that could pave the way for possible military strikes in Iran if tensions over its nuclear ambitions escalate.
According to the NYT report, the new order is intended to make such efforts more systematic and long term.
Its goals are to build networks that could "penetrate, disrupt, defeat or destroy" Al Qaeda and other militant groups, as well as to "prepare the environment" for future attacks by American or local military forces, a document said.
The order, however, does not appear to authorize offensive strikes in any specific countries.
General Petraeus's order is meant for use of small teams of American troops to fill intelligence gaps about terror organizations and other threats in the Middle East and beyond, especially emerging groups plotting attacks against the United States.
However, some Pentagon officials are concerned about the risks that may crop up because of this expanded role.
The authorized activities could strain relationships with friendly governments like Saudi Arabia or Yemen - which might allow the operations but be loath to acknowledge their cooperation - or incite the anger of hostile nations like Iran and Syria.
Many in the military are also concerned that as American troops assume roles far from traditional combat, they would be at risk of being treated as spies if captured and denied the Geneva Convention protections afforded military detainees.
The precise operations that the directive authorizes are unclear, and what the military has done to follow through on the order is uncertain. (ANI)