According to the Washington Post, the Obama administration has significantly expanded a largely secret US war against Al Qaeda and other radical groups. Special Operations forces have grown both in number and budget and are deployed in 75 countries operating now. In the Philippines, Colombia, Somalia and Yemen in addition to continuing operations in the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia.
The surge in Special Operations deployments, along with intensified CIA drone attacks in western Pakistan, is the under side of the national security doctrine of global engagement President Obama released in June.
The CIA drone attacks in Pakistan along with unilateral US raids in Somalia and joint operations in Yemen provide politically useful tools in this election year. Obama, one senior military aide said, has allowed “things that the previous (Bush) administration did not.” Special Operations commanders have also become a far more regular presence at the White House than they were under George W. Bush’s administration.
The clearest public description of the secret-war aspects of the doctrine came from the White House counterterrorism director John O. Brennan. He said that the United States will not merely respond after the fact to a terrorist attack but will “take the fight to Al Qaeda and its extremist affiliates whether they plot and train in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia and beyond.” That rhetoric is not much different than Bush’s pledge to “take the battle to the enemy and confront the worst threats before they emerge.”
In a report this June, the United Nations question the Obama administration’s authority under international law to conduct such raids, particularly when they kill innocent civilians. One possible legal justification – the permission of the countries in question – is complicated in places such as Pakistan and Yemen where the governments privately agree but do not publicly acknowledge the attacks. While the Obama administration continues Bush policy, it has rejected the constitutional executive authority claimed by Bush and has based its lethal operations on the authority Congress gave the President in 2001 to use “all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons” he determines, “planned, authorized committed or aided the September 11 attacks.” However, many of those currently being targeted particularly in places outside Afghanistan had nothing to do with 2001 attacks. Should one person, even the President of the United States, have the unilateral power to commit the nation to war?
The New York Times reported a senior United Nation’s official said the United States appeared to think that it was “facing a unique threat from transnational terrorist networks” that justified its effort. But that could quickly lead to a situation in which dozens of countries carry out “competing drone attacks” outside their borders against people “labeled as terrorists by one group or another.”