Report: US planning counterstrikes against Libyan militants

The Pentagon's elite Joint Special Operations Command, in conjunction with the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies, are assembling the packages for the White House should President Obama give the order for the strikes. 

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The special operations command was responsible for the planning and execution of the U.S. raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Abottabad, Pakistan, that resulted in the death of the al Qaeda leader. 

The target packages include background intelligence on terror suspects in Libya and elsewhere in North Africa who may have been part of the Consulate raid in Benghazi, Libya, according to reports in The New York Times. 

The Benghazi strike, which administration officials now claim was a coordinated terrorist attack against the American diplomatic outpost, ended with the deaths of four U.S. citizens including Ambassador Chris Stevens. 

The range of operations being considered by DOD and the intelligence community run the gamut from armed drone strikes to covert kill or capture raids similar to the bin Laden operation, the Times reports. 

Sufian bin Qumu, a former terror detainee at the American facility in Cuba, could theoretically be included in that emerging target list being drafted for the White House as well as members of the Libyan Islamic Liberation Group (LIFG). 

The LIFG is an al Qaeda-affiliated terror cell headquartered in Benghazi.

Bin Qumu was discussed as a person of interest in relation to the raid during classified briefing by top diplomatic, defense and intelligence officials to Congress earlier this month. 

But the Libyan national, who was handed over to Tripoli by the U.S., was released in 2010 as part of a deal with the Libyan government and the LIFG. 

Congressional and Pentagon analysts labeled bin Qumu as as the leader of the Libyan faction of Ansar al-Sharia and presumably "the new face of al Qaeda in Libya," according to a DOD-Congressional Research Service report released a month before Stevens' death. 

Aside from possible military action in North Africa, members of Africa Command have also held informal talks with regional leaders on possible U.S. military support to go after al Qaeda-linked militants in the West African nation of Mali. 

On Tuesday, DOD press secretary George Little made clear that the department was not planning any type "unilateral U.S. military operations" in Mali or in Africa writ large. 

Pentagon officials are "paying very close attention to the situation in the region," but any American response to the situation in Mali, Libya or elsewhere on the continent would focus on bolstering efforts by local governments. 

"The United States military seeks to work very closely with a number of countries in the region to address counterterrorism and other threats," Little said, declining to comment on what specific type of counterterrorism assistance U.S. forces are providing. 

"We continue to assess their needs and, where possible, appropriate, we will work closely with our partners in the region," he added. "At this time, that is where we are." 

Last Friday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence admitted the Benghazi attack was a “deliberate and organized terrorist attack” carried out by groups "affiliated with or sympathetic to al Qaeda." 

Initially, White House officials claimed the Consulate attack was the result of an anti-American protest that grew violently out of control. 

“As we learned more about the attack, we revised our initial assessment to reflect new information indicating that it was a deliberate and organized terrorist attack carried out by extremists,” Shawn Turner, spokesman for Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, said in a statement. 

Republicans have been critical of the Obama administration's initial statements that the attack was sparked by protests of an anti-Islamic video posted online, and that it was not a planned assault.