A new threat from Somalia....
Let's not wait for them to come to us....
Senior Obama administration officials are debating how to address a potential terrorist threat to U.S. interests from a Somali extremist group, with some in the military advocating strikes against its training camps. But many officials maintain that uncertainty about the intentions of the al-Shabab organization dictates a more patient, nonmilitary approach.
Al-Shabab, whose fighters have battled Ethiopian occupiers and the tenuous Somali government, poses a dilemma for the administration, according to several senior national security officials who outlined the debate only on the condition of anonymity.
The organization's rapid expansion, ties between its leaders and al-Qaeda, and the presence of Americans and Europeans in its camps have raised the question of whether a preemptive strike is warranted. Yet the group's objectives have thus far been domestic, and officials say that U.S. intelligence has no evidence it is planning attacks outside Somalia.
An attack against al-Shabab camps in southern Somalia would mark the administration's first military strike outside the Iraq and Afghanistan-Pakistan war zones. The White House discussions highlight the challenges facing the Obama team as it attempts to distance itself from the Bush administration, which conducted at least five military strikes in Somalia. The new administration is still defining its rationale for undertaking sensitive operations in countries where the United States is not at war.
Some in the Defense Department have been frustrated by what they see as a failure to act. Many other national security officials say an ill-considered strike would have negative diplomatic and political consequences far beyond the Horn of Africa. Other options under consideration are increased financial pressure and diplomatic activity, including stepped-up efforts to resolve the larger political turmoil in Somalia.
The most recent discussion of the issue took place early this week, just before the unrelated seizure of a U.S. commercial ship in the Indian Ocean by Somali pirates who are holding the American captain of the vessel hostage for ransom.
The administration has not shied away from missile attacks, launched from unmanned aircraft, in Pakistan, targeting what U.S. intelligence says are top members of al-Qaeda. Evidence against al-Shabab in Somalia is far murkier and the argument in favor of a strike is based on the potential threat the group poses to American interests.
"There is increasing concern about what terrorists operating in Somalia might do," a U.S. counterterrorism official said. According to other senior officials, the camps have graduated hundreds of fighters.