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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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.
The dilemma shows the tension of the White House’s need to demonstrate it is responding forcefully to Al Qaeda, balanced against its long-term plans to develop relationships and trust with local governments and build a permanent U.S. counterterrorist network in the region.
Vice President Joe Biden pledged in his debate last week with Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan to find those responsible for the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others.
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