San Antonio: The Pentagon’s intelligence leader said today that the U.S. has tracked and killed half of al Qaeda’s top 20 leaders this year, leaving only one of the terrorist group’s original leaders alive.
Al Qaeda operatives “feel besieged by the U.S,” said Defense Undersecretary for Intelligence Mike Vickers. The persistent U.S counter terror efforts have eliminated Al Qaeda operatives “at a rate far faster than they can replace them.” The terror group is in “the worst shape” it’s been since the U.S. expelled it from Afghanistan soon after the 9/11 attacks.
“We seek nothing less than the complete defeat of al Qaeda,” Vickers said in address at the annual Geoint conference.
A key to this success has been highly accurate targeting data and other intelligence made possible by the National Reconnaissance Office’s spy satellites — referred to by Vickers as “national technical means” — and other intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets such as the MC-12 Liberty program. The NRO’s satellite are “a critical, critical” tool in the fight against terrorists.
That ISR surge has also helped reverse the Taliban’s “momentum,” Vickers said.
As the U.S withdraws from Afghanistan and Iraq, Vickers said the U.S. will not abandon the ISR fleet it has built, as many in industry fear.
“We’ve now developed very specialized capabilities for counter-terrorism,” he said. “We now need to make sure we have a rational portfolio approach. But some things in the middle are going to get squeezed.”
But the Pentagon, he said, will take the “base fleets” of ISR assets “and continue to spiral [develop] them.” That appears to mean, several industry observers said, that the Pentagon will put new sensors and communication devices on existing planes and other platforms and not invest as much in new platforms or science and technology research to develop new approaches.
Finally, Vickers appeared to try and reassure GeoEye and DigitalGlobe, commercial providers of space imagery to the intelligence community and the commercial world. After his strong advocacy for NRO assets, Vickers said” “There is no doubt, however, that we need commercial imagery, and we need a stable commercial industry base.”
One source familiar with the industry expressed skepticism, saying the budget would prove how firm the Pentagon’s commitment really is.