WASHINGTON The Obama administration has significantly expanded the deployment of U.S. military Special Operations forces around the world against al Qaeda and other groups, the Washington Post reported on Friday.
U.S. Special Operations units are now deployed in 75 countries, compared with about 60 at the beginning of last year, the newspaper reported, citing senior military and administration officials who were not identified.
President Barack Obama took office in January 2009.
Plans exist for pre-emptive or retaliatory strikes in numerous places, meant to be carried out when a plot has been identified or after an attack has been linked to a specific group, the newspaper said.
In addition to units that have spent years in the Philippines and Colombia, U.S. Special Operations teams were also operating in Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia, the Post reported.
Such units were deployed as a front-line counterterrorism weapon for the United States after the September 11, 2001, attacks. But Obama has made these forces a far more integrated part of his global security strategy, the Post reported.
Obama has asked Congress for a 5.7 percent increase in the Special Operations budget for fiscal year 2011, for a total of $6.3 billion.
Special Operations commanders have also become a far more regular presence at the White House than they were during the Bush administration, the Post reported.
"We have a lot more access," one military official was quoting as saying. "They are talking publicly much less but they are acting more. They are willing to get aggressive much more quickly."
A Pentagon spokesman was not immediately available to comment.
U.S. officials said last month that a senior U.S. military commander, General David Petraeus, issued a secret order last year paving the way for an escalation of covert operations across the Middle East and the Horn Africa. Petraeus heads the U.S. military's Central Command, which oversees American military operations in that region.
The order authorized U.S. Special Operations units to work with local security forces to counter al Qaeda and other threats, officials said.
(Reporting by JoAnne Allen; Editing by Will Dunham)