… authorized last fall, to be specific. Via the WaPo:
The Bush administration has authorized the U.S. military to kill or capture Iranian operatives inside Iraq as part of an aggressive new strategy to weaken Tehran’s influence across the Middle East and compel it to give up its nuclear program, according to government and counterterrorism officials with direct knowledge of the effort.
For more than a year, U.S. forces in Iraq have secretly detained dozens of suspected Iranian agents, holding them for three to four days at a time. The “catch and release” policy was designed to avoid escalating tensions with Iran and yet intimidate its emissaries. U.S. forces collected DNA samples from some of the Iranians without their knowledge, subjected others to retina scans, and fingerprinted and photographed all of them before letting them go.
Last summer, however, senior administration officials decided that a more confrontational approach was necessary, as Iran’s regional influence grew and U.S. efforts to isolate Tehran appeared to be failing. The country’s nuclear work was advancing, U.S. allies were resisting robust sanctions against the Tehran government, and Iran was aggravating sectarian violence in Iraq.
“There were no costs for the Iranians,” said one senior administration official. “They are hurting our mission in Iraq, and we were bending over backwards not to fight back.”
Three officials said that about 150 Iranian intelligence officers, plus members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Command, are believed to be active inside Iraq at any given time. There is no evidence the Iranians have directly attacked U.S. troops in Iraq, intelligence officials said.
But, for three years, the Iranians have operated an embedding program there, offering operational training, intelligence and weaponry to several Shiite militias connected to the Iraqi government, to the insurgency and to the violence against Sunni factions. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the director of the CIA, told the Senate recently that the amount of Iranian-supplied materiel used against U.S. troops in Iraq “has been quite striking.”
“Iran seems to be conducting a foreign policy with a sense of dangerous triumphalism,” Hayden said.
The new “kill or capture” program was authorized by President Bush in a meeting of his most senior advisers last fall, along with other measures meant to curtail Iranian influence from Kabul to Beirut and, ultimately, to shake Iran’s commitment to its nuclear efforts. Tehran insists that its nuclear program is peaceful, but the United States and other nations say it is aimed at developing weapons.
The administration’s plans contain five “theaters of interest,” as one senior official put it, with military, intelligence, political and diplomatic strategies designed to target Iranian interests across the Middle East.
This is great news, but my question is: Why was this information leaked to the press?
Whatever the admin does, I hope they DON’T send the captured to Gitmo. The last thing we need to hear is that these thugs should get a ‘fair trial.’
Hat tip: Bob Owens, who notes that the WaPo appears to be “appalled” at the concept of the administration authorizing the killing or capture of enemy operatives.
This new strategy has its risks. By getting more aggressive and applying lethal force against Iranian infiltrators, the White House runs the risk of escalating the conflict with Iran across the region. Mistakes can be made, and any time the scope of a mission gets widened, the risk of error is greatest at the beginning. The mullahcracy could decide they have nothing left to lose and start launching rocket strikes throughout the region, especially on Israel and American positions in Iraq, touching off a wider war.
The latter is most unlikely. Teheran understands that it cannot afford to use offensive action against the Americans and the British, or even Israel, until it possesses a nuclear weapon as a balancing threat. Even if it had one — which only gets more likely as time goes on — the Iranians will realize that it has essentially bought them nothing. The less-millenial factions among the Iranian ruling class will understand that a nuclear launch will invite a nuclear response, and the fact is that the US and Britain have a much larger inventory of such weapons, with much more accurate targeting.
Basically, Iran is taking what action we have been willing to allow to this point. We’re about to redefine that, and while some will howl about “escalation”, any war on terror would eventually have to address Iran. It’s better to do it now by blunting their efforts in Iraq than wait until they have a nuke and have to fight them from Israel and Saudi Arabia. If they’re stupid enough to continue provoking us in Iraq, then they have to pay the consequences — and it’s about time they did.