The US has authorised a sweeping expansion of covert military operations in the Middle East and Africa, aimed at destroying terrorist networks in the region, and preparing the ground ahead of any Presidential decision to attack Iran.
According to the The New York Times, a directive called the Joint Unconventional Warfare Task Force Execute Order was signed on September 30 by General David Petraeus, head of Central Command and in charge of US military operations in the Middle East, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa.
Under its provisions units of the Navy Seals, the Army's Delta Force and other special forces will be able to operate both in friendly countries, and in hostile countries with which the US is not technically at war.
In some respects, the strategy does no more than institutionalise policies initiated under George W Bush. However there are major differences.
Both Pentagon and CIA officials indicated that the directive gives the Pentagon a bigger foothold in operations that were once largely the preserve of the CIA.
This means they will not automatically need approval by either the President or Congress.