A settling of accounts with the al Qaeda-linked terrorists who murdered four Americans in Benghazi on Sept. 11 may be already behind President Barack Obama when he faces his Republican challenger Mitt Romney for their third and last debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida on Oct. 22.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence and counterterrorism sources, the president has been urging CIA director David Petraeus and the heads of other US clandestine and counterterrorism agencies for two weeks to go offer Al Qaeda without delay and swipe the terrorists with a blow as resounding as the commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan on May 2, 2011.
It is absolutely vital, Obama believes, that he make good on his pledge, especially in his debate with Romney Tuesday, Oct. 16 in front of millions of American viewers, to bring the Libyan terrorists who murdered Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans to justice without delay.
If the operation cannot be executed ahead of the third presidential debate – for reasons cited below – our sources report that Obama is pushing with all his might to hurry it up and get it executed before the Nov. 6 election.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources exclusively outline the reasons for delay:
No quick fix raid will suffice, only a multiple-target operation
1. Settling the score with al Qaeda this time would not be achieved by a quick-fix, surgical raid on the Islamist Ansar al-Sharia and its founder, Ahmed Abu Khattalah, who are suspected of the Benghazi murders. It would have to be a lot wider-ranging. The planning is for multiple coordinated assaults on several targets which may be hundreds of kilometers – some say 1,000 kilometers – apart.
2. This sort of operation cannot be rushed. It needs time for preparation and substantial strength for execution. For the past two weeks, large-scale US special forces plus drones and surveillance equipment have been pouring into Libya.
CIA chief Petraeus and Adm. William H. McRaven, commander of the US Special Operations Command, have had to draw extra resources for the mission out of other counterterrorism arenas in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen.
3. Ansar al-Sharia, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counterterrorism sources, is just one element of a labyrinthine network set up and designed by Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) especially for the deadly attack on the US consulate in Benghazi. Some of the hitmen who took part in the eight-hour battle around the consulate, came from al Qaeda strongholds outside Libya in the Sahel desert and returned immediately after slipping away from the scene of attack unhindered.
They may have since gone to ground elsewhere, perhaps in neighboring Mali or the Sahara.
AQIM expects to be attacked and takes precautions
4. Identifying the Al Qaeda perpetrators from inside and outside Libya has been a lengthy, arduous and complicated procedure.
It was necessary to first to sift through photographs of the scene and separate the attackers from the mob which al Qaeda gathered as human shields for the assailants and as cover for their movements.
That identification process has been completed.
The next step, tracking them down, is well advanced. For this, it was necessary to enlist the help of local Arab security agencies – Libyan and Algerian; check through the tipsters offering information for sale; and calling up Western intelligence agents based in the region who are familiar with al Qaeda’s set-up and able to infiltrate it.
Local doctors and journalists provided photos of suspects obtained in personal contacts or interviews for double-checking with other materials in hand.
Once identified as complicit in the Benghazi raid and located, the suspect has had to be placed under 24-hour surveillance against his escape. Some have managed to elude their watchers and must be tracked down again.
The AQIM command, our intelligence sources disclose, has taken precautions against the wide-flung US intelligence dragnet and are preparing for the American payback. All operatives in contact with Arab or Western individuals outside the al Qaeda ambit have been ordered to move on to fresh hideouts without delay.
They have also been told to erase external features like the same shape of beard and give up habitual use of the same weapons common to the jihadist group because these common features have given the CIA leads to suspects.
Obama forewarned against hasty action
For all four reasons, US operational planners have concluded:
– No single operation will suffice to close the books on the jihadist murders of the four American diplomats in Benghazi .
– Multiple coordinated attacks must be conducted at a number of locations in Libya and surrounding countries including Tunisia.
– However professionally executed, these attacks cannot be completed in a few hours, only over several days.
– AQIM knows an attack is coming. Intelligence sources have picked up signs that it is laying traps for the American teams, or even getting set for counter attacks on US and Western targets the moment the US teams go into action.
After being presented with all the pros and cons of a quick operation against the Benghazi killers, President Obama is reported by DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources in Washington as still adamantly demanding fast action. He has still to decide whether it will be a one-strike or a multiple-strike operation on several terrorist targets at once.
Some White House officials, including experts working with Counterterrorism Adviser John Brennan, are adding their voices to the CIA and US Special Operations Command, in warning Obama against a hasty operation under the pressure to show himself resolute on terror.
Premature action could end badly and cost American lives. This would also have a damaging effect on Obama’s prospects of reelection.