Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Spike in Predator attacks due to imminent threat?

(CNN) -- A potential plot against Europe was one factor contributing to the uptick this month in missile strikes by unmanned drones against terrorist targets in Pakistan, according to a U.S. official.
"We would be remiss not to try to take action to thwart what might be underway in Europe," said the official.
The official emphasized that the potential plot was not the sole factor in the U.S. decision to raise missile attacks by unmanned drones against targets in Pakistan's border area with Afghanistan to an unprecedented level.

U.S. officials say they are taking advantage of what they call "precise intelligence."
Based on information from Pakistani officials, CNN estimates there have been 20 drone attacks in the area in September alone, a higher number than in any previous month, and more than twice the monthly average.

Acknowledging the spike, one U.S. official told CNN: "Our operational tempo has been up for a while now, we have good information driving it, and given the stakes involved, we hope to keep the pressure on as long as we can."
According to the official, the mix of threats remains the same. It comes from groups like the Haqqani network, al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistan Taliban. The threats they pose are "all deadly," said the official.

Earlier this month the Pakistani Taliban said it planned further attacks against Western targets. "We will launch attacks in America and Europe very soon," Qari Hussain Mehsud, a senior Pakistani Taliban leader, told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.

One possible source of information on terrorists' plans is a German citizen of Afghan descent who is thought to be held in Afghanistan by U.S. forces. German intelligence officials confirm the man -- known only as Ahmad S. -- was detained in July, but they have not had access to him. They say he and several other Germans traveled from Hamburg to the Afghan/Pakistan border area in 2009, where he joined the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, an extremist group allied with al Qaeda.

German media reports, quoting intelligence sources, say Ahmad S. talked about possible attacks in Europe while under interrogation at the U.S. Bagram Air Force Base. But the reports did not link his information directly to the stepped-up drone campaign.
Meanwhile, a federal law enforcement official, said "the volume seems to be turned up" on the threat information coming out of Europe.

The intelligence indicates there is interest in using people with Western passports in an attack, that official said. This source says the potential operatives may be a mix of Europeans and others possibly including North Africans, Pakistanis, Turks, Uzbeks, and Tajiks.

There is concern about an "active shooter" scenario that would create as many casualties and as much chaos as possible in a short period of time. The 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India, showed how effective this kind of an attack can be in drawing attention.

According to this source, economic targets in Europe could be possible targets, including institutions such as banks and stock exchanges.
A separate law enforcement source said "the belief is" that Osama bin Laden signed off on a European atttack plan, and that source confirmed that intelligence related to a Mumbai-style attack.

The German government is increasingly concerned about the number of Germans becoming jihadists. According to a senior German counter-terrorism source, some 200 individuals have traveled to train with Jihadist groups in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region since the 9/11 attacks.

Most of the drone attacks this year have been focused on North Waziristan, a mountainous area bordering Afghanistan where Pakistani security forces have little control. That has continued to be the pattern this month.

Pakistani officials say many recent strikes have been aimed at compounds in or around the town of Miramshah, a stronghold of the Haqqani network. Western intelligence officials have long regarded the Haqqanis as one of the most dangerous terror groups and have linked them to several attacks in Kabul.

Intelligence analysts point to other reasons for the escalated drone attacks. They include better information from sources in the border area and better surveillance technology -- including the growing use of spy balloons fitted with high-powered cameras.
In addition, the rising number of drone strikes is designed to deprive the Afghan Taliban of "strategic depth" as the Obama administration's campaign to defeat the insurgency enters a crucial phase and tighten the noose on the senior al Qaeda leadership. Pakistani officials say one strike last weekend killed Sheikh Mohammad Fateh al Masri, described as the group's senior operational commander.

CNN Homeland Security Correspondent Jeanne Meserve contributed to this report.

DARPA - dreams of flying Humvees!

DARPA funds numerous research projects and some of them sound like science fiction more than a product that could see reality. One of the more interesting projects that DARPA has talked about in the past year or so is the Transformer flying car. The idea behind the Transformer is that the soldiers could fly the vehicle over IEDs and rough terrain to make insertions into combat zones.

DARPA expects the flying Humvee to be piloted by troops with about the same amount of training that it takes to drive an armored vehicle. The basic premise of the vehicle is to take a Humvee that is lightened for flight and equip it with a rotor system to allow quick vertical takeoff and landings. Defense News reports that in the weeks to come, DARPA will turn the Transformer idea over to several defense contractors for research.

The Transformer would have to be able to carry four combat ready soldiers and over 1,000 pounds of gear into battle. The car is expected to have a range of 250 miles when flying or driving on a single tank of fuel. One interesting aspect of the vehicle is that it would have automated flight capabilities as well. Using the automated flight capability, the flying Humvee could be sent to remote field locations with supplies offering the soldiers the gear and transportation they need for an objective.

The need to lighten the vehicle for flight would mean less armor. DARPA states that the vehicle would be able to stop most small arms fire and the reduction in armor would be offset by the ability to fly over IEDs and bombs.

Officials with the U.S. Marine core state that they are more interested in how the research into a flying Humvee might help unmanned helicopters they are developing more than they are interested in the flying car. James Lasswell, head of the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab, said, "The idea of having a flying car is interesting, but that is kind of a gee-whiz kind of thing."
DARPA first announced the Transformer program in January 2010.

Related : Farnborough 2010: Textron pursues 'flying Humvee' programme

Textron Systems is looking to take advantage of a slowed-rotor compound aircraft design developed by Carter Aviation as it pursues the Transformer (TX) programme.

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) project is studying the feasibility of a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL), road-worthy vehicle capable of carrying four troops on road and for distances in the air.
DARPA recently issued a broad agency announcement (BAA) solicitation, which a number of companies are known to have responded to, including Textron.

The multi-phase $54 million programme is looking to develop a concept vehicle as well as key enabling technologies for a ‘robust ground vehicle’ capable of converting into a VTOL aircraft with a maximum payload of 1000lbs.

Speaking to Rotorhub.com at the Farnborough Internatiobnal Air Show, Textron representatives said the company’s design leveraged a 40-year deal giving AAI, a Textron subsidiary, exclusive use of the slowed-rotor technology developed by Carter Aviation.

AAI vice president for unmanned aircraft systems, Steve Reid, said the company was looking at slowed rotors for unmanned applications, such as the US Marine Corps’ unmanned cargo aircraft requyirement, but the Transformer programme was also seen as an ideal use for the technology.
Reid said the engine was able to retain enough ‘optimise stored energy’ to provide a vertical take off while landings were performed similar to a helicopter autorotation.

‘Then in forward flight when it is flying like a traditional fixed-wing aircraft, the rotor blades are free wheeling for minimal drag,’ Reid said.
Carter Aviation has demonstrated the slowed rotor concept as part of the CarterCopter Technology Demonstrator (CCTD) and claim the design could allow a compound aircraft to reach high speed flight up to 500 mph but with less complexity than a tilt-rotor or other vectored thrust vehicle.
DARPA is dividing the Transformer programme into two disparate tasks.

Task A will develop and integrate a full vehicle and Task B will develop individual critical technologies components for the full vehicle. Multiple awards are envisioned for the first two phases with DARPA settling on a final design at the end of Phase II.

Other companies that are known to have responded to the BAA include AVX Aircraft, with a design similar to its proposal for the US Army’s Armed Aerial Scout programme, and Logi AeroSpace with a ‘shrouded propellor’ design.

The TX vehicle would be designed for military scouting, personnel transport, and logistics missions.
According to the BAA, technical areas to be explored include: hybrid electric drive ducted fan propulsion system, ring motors, energy storage methods such as batteries and ultra capacitors, morphing vehicle bodies, and advanced flight controls and flight management systems.

‘The TX vehicle is intended to make roads irrelevant for military small unit maneuvers. These units can use TX air vehicles to fly over obstacles or impassible terrain, avoid ambushes and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Personal TX vehicles could be dispatched for downed airman recovery or for evacuating injured personnel from difficult to access locations, or to resupply isolated small units,’ the BAA stated.

In news from the future: Al Qaeda training pigeons to carry IEDs to counter flying Humvee threat. ; )


Drone kills al Queda commander

(CNN) -- A recent drone strike in Pakistan's tribal region killed one of al Qaeda's top commanders, two Pakistani security officials told CNN Tuesday.

Sheikh Mohammad Fateh al Masri, described as the group's senior operational commander, was killed in North Waziristan, one of the seven districts of the country's volatile tribal region.

One of the sources said al Masri was killed recently, and the other said he was killed in a strike on Sunday. The sources did not want to be named because they are not authorized to speak to the media.

While the United States is the only country in the region of Pakistan and Afghanistan known to have the ability to launch missiles from drones -- which are controlled remotely -- U.S. officials normally do not comment on suspected drone strikes.

Al Masri was emir, or leader, for Qaidat al-Jihad fi Khorasan, or the base of the jihad in the Khorasan -- the region that encompasses large areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Iran.

He replaced Mustafa Abu Yazid, al Qaeda's former leader in Afghanistan, who was killed in May by a drone strike in Datta Khel in North Waziristan. And, al Masri has led military operations in Afghanistan as well as carried out attacks in Pakistan, which he viewed as a vital theater in the war.

The Khorasan is considered by jihadis to be the place where they will inflict the first defeat against their enemies in the Muslim version of Armageddon. The final battle is to take place in the Levant -- Israel, Syria, and Lebanon.

Mentions of the Khorasan began to increase in al Qaeda's propaganda starting in 2007. After al Qaeda's defeat in Iraq, the group began shifting its rhetoric from promoting Iraq as the central front in its jihad and have placed the focus on the Khorasan.

Several U.S. military and intelligence officials said the report of al Masri's ascension to lead al Qaeda in Afghanistan is accurate. Yazid, who, like al Masri, was an Egyptian, also served as al Qaeda's chief financier and paymaster.

However, little is publicly known of al Masri. According to the Asia Times, he was not a formal member of al Qaeda. Al Masri may have been a member of Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya, or the Egyptian Islamic Group, an intelligence official told The Long War Journal. That journal is an online publication that follows the U.S. campaign against al Qaeda and its allies.

The Egyptian Islamic Group is a rival to Ayman al Zawahiri's Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which is believed to have formally merged with al Qaeda in June 2001. Al Zawahiri is now the No. 2 official in al Qaeda, under leader Osama bin Laden. The Egyptian Islamic Jihad worked closely with al Qaeda long before the formal merger, however. Egyptians hold or have held some of al Qaeda's top positions.

Drone strikes have occurred regularly against militants in Pakistan.

On Tuesday, a suspected U.S. drone strike killed four suspected militants in the country's tribal region, two intelligence officials told CNN. That strike followed similar attacks Saturday, Sunday and Monday that left eight suspected militants dead, the officials said.

The intelligence officials said two missiles hit an alleged militant hideout in the Angoor Ada area of South Waziristan. These intelligence officials asked not to be named because they are not authorized to speak to the media.

Al Masri's death comes as the CIA stepped up missile strikes in Pakistan against groups like the Haqqanis, al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistan Taliban, with the majority of strikes hitting targets in North Waziristan.

Pakistan's volatile tribal region -- which borders Afghanistan -- has been targeted by drones more than 65 times this year, according to a CNN count. September has seen more attacks than any other month since the unmanned aerial strikes began.

In news of the future: New al Qaeda commander killed by a drone.


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