Obama secretly deploys US special forces to 75 countries across world
by Tim Reid and Michael Evans
President Obama has secretly sanctioned a huge increase in the number of US special forces carrying out search-and-destroy missions against al-Qaeda around the world, with American troops now operating in 75 countries.
The dramatic expansion in the use of special forces, which in their global span go far beyond the covert missions authorised by George W. Bush, reflects how aggressively the President is pursuing al-Qaeda behind his public rhetoric of global engagement and diplomacy.
When Mr Obama took office US special forces were operating in fewer than 60 countries. In the past 18 months he has ordered a big expansion in Yemen and the Horn of Africa known areas of strong al-Qaeda activity and elsewhere in the Middle East, central Asia and Africa.
According to The Washington Post, Mr Obama has also approved pre-emptive special forces strikes to disrupt terror plots, and has given the units powers and authority that was not granted by Mr Bush when he occupied the White House.
It also emerged yesterday that Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary, has ordered the Pentagon to find savings of more than $100 billion (£68 billion) over the next five years to redistribute more funds for combat forces including special operations units. Mr Gates has called on all departments to come up with proposals by July 31, and is initially demanding $7 billion in cuts and efficiencies for the 2012 fiscal year, and further cuts each year up to 2016.
The effort to provide more money for combat forces in Afghanistan and Iraq including special operations units is likely to lead to a clash with Congress, and also with the defence industry if favoured equipment programmes are scrapped.
The aggressive secret war against al-Qaeda and other radical groups has coincided with a surge in the number of US drone attacks in the lawless border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan, an al-Qaeda and Taleban haven, since Mr Obama took office.