(CBS/AP) The U.S. military has conducted nearly a dozen secret operations against al Qaeda and other terrorist groups in Syria, Pakistan and other countries since 2004, The New York Times reported Sunday night.
Citing anonymous U.S. officials, the Times story said the operations were authorized by a broad classified order that then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld signed and President Bush approved in spring 2004. The order gave the military authority to attack al Qaeda anywhere in the world and to conduct operations in countries that were not at war with the U.S.
One such operation was an Oct. 26 raid inside Syria, the Times reported. Washington has not formally acknowledged the raid, but U.S. officials have said the target was a top al Qaeda in Iraq figure. Syria has asked for proof and said eight civilians were killed in the attack.
Sources told CBS News national security correspondent David Martin the raid targeted and killed Abu Ghadiyah, who was a senior al Qaeda in Iraq operative responsible for funneling foreign fighters and money into Iraq. A U.S. official called his death "very significant," but no proof has been offered to verify the strike's success.
The incursion prompted furious backlash in Syria, where thousands took to the streets in protest, the government demanded the closure of at least one American school, and Syria's military reportedly withdrew some of its own troops from the border with Iraq in retaliation.
In September this year a team of Navy SEALs laid siege to several buildings in a Pakistani village for at least a couple hours in the most recent, known incidence of U.S. ground forces operating inside Pakistan. At least 15 people were killed, including one militant subcommander, but many of them were civilians.
Far more common in Pakistan are the regular missile strikes by American pilotless drones, which have hit numerous suspected militant targets during the last several months, but have also angered the local population and officials who say they leave more innocent civilians dead than Taliban or al Qaeda fighters.
Pakistan's leaders have demanded a halt to the missile strike campaign, and U.S. Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus has acknowledged the civilian death toll, but would not rule out future strikes.
The ground raids around the world have typically been conducted by U.S. Special Forces, often in conjunction with the Central Intelligence Agency, the Times said. Even though the process has been streamlined, specific missions have to be approved by the defense secretary or, in the cases of Syria and Pakistan, by the president.
A Defense Department spokesman had no comment Sunday night on the Times report.
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