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Special forces 'key to terror war'

The United States will push ahead with more targeted drone strikes and special operations raids and fewer costly land battles like Iraq and Afghanistan in the continuing war against al Qaida, a new counter-terrorism strategy says.

The doctrine, two years in the making, comes in the wake of the successful special operations raid that killed al Qaida chief Osama bin Laden in May, and a week after President Barack Obama's announcement that US troops will begin leaving Afghanistan this summer.

The document is a purposeful departure from the Bush administration's global war on terror.

The worldwide hunt for terrorists that began after the September 11, 2001, attacks focused first on Afghanistan, and small numbers of al Qaida are still active there.

White House counter-terrorism chief John Brennan said the reworked doctrine acknowledges the growing threat of terrorism at home, including al Qaida attempts to recruit and attack inside the United States.

Mr Brennan told a Washington audience that more resources would be spent on the fight at home to spot would-be militants and their recruiters, and the US would resist al Qaida's attempts to bleed it economically by drawing it into costly invasions overseas.

"Our best offence won't always be deploying large armies abroad, but delivering targeted, surgical pressure to the groups that threaten us," Mr Brennan said at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

Mr Brennan said the strategy relies on "surgical" action against specific groups to decapitate their leadership and deny them safe havens and rejects costly wars like Iraq and Afghanistan that feed al Qaida's narrative that America is out to occupy the Muslim world. He said the US would work whenever possible to help host countries fight al Qaida so the US did not have to, just as it was trying to hand over responsibility to the Afghans.

The operations Mr Brennan describes are almost solely the province of the intelligence and military special operations agencies, especially the CIA and elite forces of the Joint Special Operations Command that worked together to carry out the bin Laden raid, but also including the special operations trainers that work with host nations' militaries.

Mr Brennan, who is a former CIA officer, did not make specific mention of the covert armed drone program that targets militants in Pakistan and, on rare occasions, in countries like Yemen. But he referred to the administration's work to rush what he called "unique capabilities" to the field, an oblique reference to classified programmes like the stepped-up construction of a CIA drone-launching base in the Persian Gulf region to use the unmanned aircraft to hunt militants in Yemen.

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