AFP | 17 October 2012
The White House has put special operations strike forces on standby and moved drones into the skies above Africa, ready to strike militant targets from Libya to Mali — if investigators can find the Al-Qaeda-linked group responsible for the death of the US ambassador and three other Americans in Libya.
But officials say the administration, with weeks until the presidential election, is weighing whether the short-term payoff of exacting retribution on Al-Qaeda is worth the risk that such strikes could elevate the group’s profile in the region, alienate governments the US needs to fight it in the future and do little to slow the growing terror threat in North Africa.
Details on the administration’s position and on its search for a possible target were provided by three current and one former administration official, as well as an analyst who was approached by the White House for help. All four spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the high-level debates publicly.
A Washington-based analyst with extensive experience in Africa said that administration officials have approached him asking for help in connecting the dots to Mali, whose northern half fell to Al-Qaeda-linked rebels this spring. They wanted to know if he could suggest potential targets, which he says he was not able to do.
In Mali, US officials have urged the government to allow special operations trainers to return, to work with Mali’s forces to push Al-Qaeda out of that country’s northern area.
In northern Mali, residents in the three largest cities say they hear the sound of airplanes overhead but can’t spot them.
That’s standard for drones, which are often invisible to the naked eye, flying several thousand feet above ground.
Residents say the plane sounds have increased sharply in recent weeks, following both the attack in Benghazi and the growing calls for a military intervention in Mali. — AFP