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There is more to the war than meets the eye. In addition to the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon is waging a covert war of which Iran is one of the central targets. Activities are coordinated by the United States Special Operations Command (UsSoCom), with approximately 57 000 specialists from four service branches (Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force) at its disposal. Their official mission entails: intelligence gathering; direct target actions; capture or elimination of the enemy; non-conventional warfare through external forces, trained and supervised by UsSoCom; counter-insurgency activities to assist allied governments in quelling rebellions; psychological operations to sway public opinion abroad in favour of U.S. military actions. As reported by the Washington Post, special operation forces are currently deployed in 75 countries, up from 60 at the beginning of last year [1]. An indication of their growing importance is the fact that "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 theater of special operations, which are officially running up a cost of 10 billion dollars, is essentially concentrated around the Middle East, Central Asia and East Africa. However, plans exist "for preemptive or retaliatory strikes in numerous places around the world, meant to be put into action when a plot has been identified, or after an attack." The "advantage" of using secret forces for such missions is that they don’t require Congress approval and can be kept under wraps. According to Administration officials cited by UPI, such operations "could pave the way for military attacks against Iran if the showdown over Tehran’s nuclear programme should escalate".

In the context of "non-conventional warfare", UsSoCom hires private military companies, such as Xe Services (ex-Blackwater, notorious for its activities in Iraq) which is involved in various special operations, including intelligence collection in Iran. Iranian dissident groups, especially in the country’s south-eastern sunni majority region, receive support from UsSoCom either directly or indirectly. One of these groups, the "People’s Holy Warriors of Iran", appears on Washington’s list of terrorist organisations. The same tactics are applied in Afghanistan, where secret forces make use of local warlords for their special operations. One of these - reports the New York Times [2] - is Matiullah Khan: with his private army, he fights insurgents alongside U.S. special forces (whose headquarters are located about one hundred metres away from his) and ensures a safe passage for NATO convoys, at 1 200 dollars per truck. He has thus become the most powerful and richest warlord in his province. And all this, thanks to what the Pentagon calls a "non-conventional war".

[1] "Targeted killings" increase under Obama, Voltaire Network, 6 June 2010.

[2] « With U.S. Aid, Warlord Builds Afghan Empire », by Dexter Filkins, New York Times, 5 June 2010.