Since 2004, the Pentagon has used broad, secret authority to carry out about 12 attacks against al Qaeda and other militants in Syria, Pakistan and elsewhere, The New York Times reported on its Web site on Sunday, according to Reuters.
Quoting what it said were more than six unnamed military and intelligence officials and senior Bush administration policy makers, the newspaper said the military operations were authorized by a classified order signed by former Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld with the approval of President George W. Bush.
Under the order, the military had new authority to strike the al Qaeda network anywhere in the world and a broader mandate to conduct operations in countries not at war with the United States, according to the Times.
Despite the order, each mission required high-level government approval, the Times reported.
The order identified 15 to 20 countries, including Syria, Pakistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states, where Qaeda militants were believed to be operating or to have sought sanctuary, a senior administration official told the newspaper.
A former top CIA official told the newspaper that one of the operations included the raid of a suspected militant compound in the Bajuar region of Pakistan. The Times said its sources refused to provide details about the other previously undisclosed attacks, except to say they had been carried out in Syria, Pakistan and other countries.
The newspaper said officials made clear there had been no raids into Iran using that authority, but they suggested that American forces had carried out reconnaissance missions in Iran using other classified directives.
Senior military officials told the paper as many as a dozen additional missions were scrapped because senior administration officials decided they were too dangerous, diplomatically problematic or relied on insufficient evidence.
When contacted by the Times, spokesmen for the White House, the Defence Department and the military declined comment.