U.S. is tracking suspects in attack on Libya mission

The New York Times reports: The United States is laying the groundwork for operations to kill or capture militants implicated in the deadly attack on a diplomatic mission in Libya, senior military and counterterrorism officials said Tuesday, as the weak Libyan government appears unable to arrest or even question fighters involved in the assault.

The top-secret Joint Special Operations Command is compiling so-called target packages of detailed information about the suspects, the officials said. Working with the Pentagon and the C.I.A., the command is preparing the dossiers as the first step in anticipation of possible orders from President Obama to take action against those determined to have played a role in the attack on a diplomatic mission in the eastern city of Benghazi that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three colleagues three weeks ago.

Potential military options could include drone strikes, Special Operations raids like the one that killed Osama bin Laden and joint missions with Libyan authorities. But administration officials say no decisions have been made on any potential targets.

Spokesmen for the Defense Department and C.I.A. declined to comment.

The preparations underscore the bind confronting the White House over the Benghazi attack. Mr. Obama has vowed to bring the killers to justice, and in the final weeks of the presidential campaign Republicans have hammered the administration over the possible intelligence failures that preceded the attack — including a new accusation that repeated requests for strengthened security in Benghazi had been rejected.

But any American military action on Libyan soil would risk casualties and almost certainly set off a popular backlash at a moment when support for the revolt against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi had created a surge in good feeling toward the United States that is unique in the region.

Reflecting a surge in nationalism, the Libyan government has opposed any unilateral American military action in Libya against the attackers. “We will not accept anyone entering inside Libya,” Mustafa Abu Shagur, Libya’s new prime minister, told the Al Jazeera television network. “That would infringe on sovereignty and we will refuse.”

Note: the New York Times headline doesn’t say “suspects”; it says “killers.” Naturally, Times journalists lack the authority to question their government handlers and if “killers” is the term administration officials use, then “killers” is the term the paper of record will repeat. After all, if there might be any doubt about the identity of individuals being lined up for possible execution in a U.S. drone firing range, it would be reasonable to question the use of drones.

A Gallup poll conducted in March and April showed that 75% of Libyans supported the NATO military intervention in 2011. Gallup also noted:

U.S. support for the Libyan revolution may have generated an almost unprecedented level of goodwill toward the U.S. In 2012, 54% of Libyans approve of U.S. leadership — among the highest approval Gallup has ever recorded in the Middle East and North Africa region, outside of Israel.

If President Obama goes ahead and authorizes drone strikes in Libya right before the U.S. presidential election, then whatever national security justification officials may provide for such killing, the “necessity” for such an operation can reasonably be inferred to have been political.

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