The New York Times ran a front page story yesterday with some details of a seven-page directive signed in September 2009 by Central Command’s General David Petraeus sending more clandestine military forces throughout the Middle East. Because the order is classified, only portions were discussed in the Times article.
Petraeus’ order expands on similar moves by former President George W. Bush and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, but is said to focus less on offensive strikes and more on “intelligence gathering – by American troops, foreign businesspeople, academics or others – to identify militants and provide ‘persistent situational awareness,’ while forging ties to local indigenous groups.”
The article also reveals that the Joint Unconventional Warfare Task Force Execute Order has a few words to say about Iran:
The seven-page directive appears to authorize specific operations in Iran, most likely to gather intelligence about the country’s nuclear program or identify dissident groups that might be useful for a future military offensive. The Obama administration insists that for the moment, it is committed to penalizing Iran for its nuclear activities only with diplomatic and economic sanctions. Nevertheless, the Pentagon has to draw up detailed war plans to be prepared in advance, in the event that President Obama ever authorizes a strike. “The Defense Department can’t be caught flat-footed,” said one Pentagon official with knowledge of General Petraeus’s order.
From General Petraeus’ experience in Iraq, we know that these proposed operations — if they do indeed exist — will not be carried out by military forces alone. General Petraeus has a strong record of coordinating these kinds of activities with other government agencies and civilians. For example, the Provisional Reconstruction Teams that were employed in Iraq included anthropologists, translators, and local experts on Iraqi culture. This approach helped contribute to the success of General Petraeus’ COIN strategy, starting with the surge in January 2007.
At the ‘hearts and minds’ level, one problem with this new directive is that it may continue to feed Middle Eastern xenophobia of Western tourists as ‘spies’ for America and Israel. There already exists in Middle Eastern culture a suspicion of Westerners — especially in countries like Syria and Iran — and news about this initiative may have the unintended consequence of bolstering the power of authoritarian regimes to imprison Western diplomats, soldiers, or civilians.
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