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US elite group to spearhead anti-terror war

Washington, Sept. 18 (Reuters): The Pentagon plans to put the US military’s elite Special Operations Command in charge of most anti-terrorist actions around the world in a shift to a more covert war against al Qaida, US officials said today.

The command includes shadowy and highly trained special forces troops and counter-terrorism units that can conduct “snatch” or “kill” missions, among them Navy Seals and the army’s Delta Force.

The officials also told Reuters that as many as 500 Special Operation troops had been recently moved to a base at Djibouti in east Africa for possible missions against al Qaida guerrillas believed to be hiding throughout the region, especially Yemen.

“We have been looking at that part of the world for many months. It’s obvious that al Qaida — including terrorists who have run from Afghanistan - are there,” said one of the US officials, who asked not to be identified.

“They (the forces) are waiting for specific intelligence,” said another official.

The officials, confirming a report today in The Washington Post on the new Special Operations Command responsibilities, said CIA paramilitary units — which have operated with Special Operations forces in Afghanistan — are expected to work closely with SOCOM worldwide.

The Pentagon says that senior leaders and other guerrillas of fugitive Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida network, blamed by Washington for last year’s September 11 attacks on America, have fled from Afghanistan to neighbouring Pakistan and are also believed hiding in Yemen, Sudan, Georgia, Chechnya and other countries.

The Post reported that defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld was dissatisfied with the progress against terrorism by American military commands around the world and had decided to consolidate more control in the hands of SOCOM, based in Tampa, Florida.

The command is headed by air force Gen. Charles Holland and The Post said Holland had already been given direct responsibility for the hunt for al Qaida in Yemen and Pakistan, two countries of major concern.

ABC News reported on Monday night that Special Operations troops had been moved to a base at Djibouti and that the US navy assault ship Belleau Wood was sailing off the region with attack helicopters.

US officials confirmed Djibouti could be used as a jumping-off point for quick and clandestine strikes in that part of the world.

The New York Times reported that any strikes from Djibouti into Yemen could seek those responsible for the October 2000 explosives attack on the US destroyer Cole in Aden harbour of Yemen. It said the FBI was deeply disappointed with cooperation from Yemen’s government in that case.

The Post said the move to centre the military fight against terrorism in the Special Operations Command was moving ahead quickly.

It said SOCOM was under orders to develop plans over the next few weeks for worldwide operations.

Defence department spokeswoman Victoria Clarke told The Post that the Special Operations Command would at times be given greater responsibility for operations but it was incorrect to say “henceforth that SOCOM would be the supported command.”

Indonesian police say they are questioning a German man of Arab descent over connections to another Arab who allegedly planned attacks on US targets in Southeast Asia and who has been linked to al Qaida.

National police spokesman Saleh Saaf said today the German, whom he declined to identify, had been initially detained in Jakarta for immigration offences.

He said police intelligence officials began questioning the man yesterday.

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