The New York Times is reporting tonight that a secret military order signed by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in spring of 2004 gave the military formal authority to conduct attacks against al-Qaeda anywhere in the world, including nations not current at war with the United States.
The order explicitly mentions 15 to 20 countries across the Muslim world with specific levels of approval needed for missions in each country. A strike in Somalia would only require the defense secretary’s approval, while attacks in Pakistan and Syria need presidential approval.
It is unclear from the report how broadly the directive defines “al-Qaeda terrorist network,” but as it appears to have been the source of the authorizaiton to attack “suspected elements of a robust foreign fighter logistics network” in Syria, not to mention the innumerable attacks in Pakistan over recent months which have targeted everything from Pakistani Taliban-linked religious schools to unfriendly tribes it is being very broadly interpreted.
The report, which cites senior US officials, also brings to light previously undisclosed attacks, such as a 2006 Navy Seal raid in Pakistan’s Bajaur Agency. An attack on September 3 of this year was previously believed to be the first incident of US ground troops attacking targets inside Pakistan.