US building a network to hit militants: Report

The Obama administration has ramped up its secret war on terror groups.

Updated: Jan 06, 2011, 15:46 PM IST

Washington: The Obama administration has ramped up its secret war on terror groups with a new military targeting centre to oversee the growing use of special operations strikes against suspected militants in hot spots around the world, according to current and former US officials.

Run by the US Joint Special Operations Command, the new centre would be a significant step in streamlining targeting operations previously scattered among US and battlefields abroad and giving elite military officials closer access to Washington decision-makers and counter terror experts, the officials said.

The centre aims to speed the sharing of information and shorten the time between targeting and military action, said two current and two former US officials briefed on the project. Those officials and others insisted on condition of anonymity to discuss the classified matters.

The creation of the centre comes as part of the administration`s increasing reliance on clandestine and covert action to hunt terror suspects as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have tested the country`s patience and pocketbook. The White House has more than doubled the numbers of special operations forces in Afghanistan alone, as well as doubling the CIA`s use of missile strikes from unmanned drones in Pakistan and expanding counterterror operations in Yemen.

JSOC`s decision-making process in counterterror operations had previously been spread between special operations officials at Pope Air Force base in North Carolina, top officials at the Pentagon and commanders on the battlefield.

Now located at a classified address a short drive from the Pentagon, the centre is staffed with at least 100 counterterror experts fusing the military`s special operations elite with analysts, intelligence and law enforcement officials from the FBI, Homeland Security and other agencies, the US officials said.

The new centre is similar in concept to the civilian National Counterterrorism Centre, which was developed in 2004 as a wide-scope defensive bulwark in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks to share intelligence and track terrorist threats.

But the new military centre focuses instead on the offensive end of counterterrorism, tracking and targeting terrorist threats that have surfaced in recent years from Pakistan to Yemen and Somalia and other hot zones. Its targeting advice will largely direct elite special operations forces in both commando raids and missile strikes overseas.

The data also could be used at times to advise domestic law enforcement in dealing with suspected terrorists inside the US, the officials said. But the civilian authorities would have no role in "kill or capture" operations targeting militant suspects abroad.

The centre is similar to several other so-called military intelligence "fusion" centres already operating in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those installations were designed to put special operations officials in the same room with intelligence professionals and analysts, allowing US forces to shave the time between finding and tracking a target, and deciding how to respond.

At the heart of the new centre’s analysis is a cloud-computing network tied into all elements of US national security, from the eavesdropping capabilities of the National Security Agency to Homeland Security`s border-monitoring databases. The computer is designed to sift through masses of information to track militant suspects across the globe, said two US officials familiar with the system.

Several military officials said the centre is the brainchild of JSOC`s current commander, Vice Admiral Bill McRaven, who patterned it on the success of a military system called "counter-network”, which uses drone, satellite and human intelligence to drive operations on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bureau Report