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Sources: Rumsfeld calls for Special Ops covert action

Donald Rumsfeld
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld  

From Barbara Starr
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld issued a classified memo to the U.S. Special Operations command, ordering it to "capture or kill" the top leadership of al Qaeda, sources told CNN Friday.

It would be the first time during the war on terrorism that a mission puts Special Operations, instead of the U.S. Central Command, in charge of its own counterterrorism efforts. The U.S. Central Command has been leading the war on terrorism.

Sources told CNN the memo reflects deep unhappiness with the ability of the U.S. Central Command and U.S. intelligence to find and target top leaders. Rumsfeld wants to see more clandestine missions undertaken by Special Operations, which he believes can be more innovative.

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Rumsfeld is expected to meet Friday in the Pentagon with Gen. Charles Holland, head of Special Operations, and Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to review specific plans proposed by Holland for new covert missions involving Navy SEALS, Army Green Berets and the super-secret Army Delta Force.

This could now take Special Operations into any country where U.S. intelligence believes the top leadership of al Qaeda is hiding.

The Rumsfeld memo includes not only Osama bin Laden but another half dozen or so top al Qaeda leaders who are believed to pose the greatest threat to coordinate and order new terrorist attacks on the United States, sources told CNN.

Holland is said to have a phased plan that could involve the use of Special Operations forces for months in highly classified covert missions, all outside the regular scope of military or law enforcement operations.

The Rumsfeld memo will give Special Operations forces the ability to take advantage of the law that allows them to engage in counterterrorism or "direct action" missions to kill enemy forces.

But CNN has been told it is likely that any missions bordering on assassination attempts would have to be approved by Rumsfeld or President Bush.

Sources said that although Holland has specific proposals on targeting top al Qaeda leadership, the intelligence community still is struggling to provide precise intelligence on the leadership's locations to allow Special Operations to move in.




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