(photo credit: AP)
WASHINGTON — US Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus signed a secret order in late 2009 that set the stage for an increase in covert operations to counter militants and other threats across the Middle East, US defense officials said Tuesday.
RELATED:Petraeus: Arab-Israeli conflict hurts USAnalysis: Is there a shift in US military thinking?Israel, US to share airline terror intel
Petraeus, a top US general in the region, was said by two officials to have signed an order in September authorizing Special Operations forces to deploy to both allied and hostile nations in the Mideast, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa to conduct surveillance missions and partner with local forces.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity, as the missions involved clandestine forces.
The seven-page order also apparently authorized 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, according to The New York Times
, which first disclosed the directive in its Tuesday edition.
Also citing anonymous sources, the newspaper said that the new order did not authorize offensive action, but rather its goal was to build new networks to "penetrate, disrupt, defeat or destroy" militant groups, including al-Qaida, and "prepare the environment" for future attacks.
As such, the Joint Unconventional Warfare Task Force Execute Order of
Sept. 30 to a large extent is aimed at codifying established activities —
some of which have been under way for years — and more systematically
align them and fund them under Central Command's special operations
component, one defense official said.
One such major escalation in the region is the work already under way
with Yemen, the country where al-Qaida linked militants planned the
failed Christmas Day airliner attack over Detroit by the so-called
underwear bomber. In that case, the Defense Department plans to more
than double to $150 million this year the money spent on helicopters,
weapons and other counterterrorism efforts to help local security forces
go after the group al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
Aside from that expansion, it was unclear Tuesday precisely what other
operations or missions in recent months might have stemmed from the new