Administration officials officials Thursday sketched out their efforts to downsize military and covert action against against jihadis, and to instead rely more on lawyers, FBI investigations and foreign government action against the al-Qaida network.
The strategy rolls back anti-terror programs and accepts the possibility of jihadi attacks.
“Our resilience is our strongest weapon in this effort — you cannot eliminate risk, you cannot eliminate terrorism,” the official said.
The policy is being pushed Thursday President Barack Obama with a high-profile speech at the D.C.-based National Defenses University that likely will sweep scandal coverage off the front-pages for some time.
The policy is being advertised as novel, partly because the president has recently signed a formal strategy document.
But the policy’s focus on civil courts and reliance on foreign governments reflects the president’s long-standing policies, which have included the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The president’s strategy, however, is facing practical challenges.
Obama’s speech comes two days after The Associated Press reported that officials have identified five of the jihadis who killed four Americans and destroyed the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi last September.
“The officials say they have enough evidence to justify seizing them by military force as suspected terrorists — but not enough proof to try them in a U.S. civilian court as the Obama administration prefers,” the AP reported.
The Libyan government has not arrested the attackers, either for a domestic trial or for extradition to the United States, even though Obama used U.S. forces to remove the prior dictators, Moammar Gadhafi.
The administration has “a preference to detain, interrogate and prosecute individual terrorists,” rather that deploy military forces or use drone-strikes, said a White House official.
Drone strike are being sharply restricted to minimize civilian casualties and local public anger, said officials. “There must be a near certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured,” he said.
The drone attacks are not intended to punish enemies, and are aimed at individuals that pose “a continuing imminent threat to the United States,” he said.
The president wants to close the Guantanamo prison and transfer prisoners to civilian jails in the United States, he said.
The only enemies cited by the officials are the al-Qaida-linked groups that threaten to attack targets in the United States, not the proliferating jihadi group that kill Muslims, Arab Christians or Westerners as they try to impose Shariah law in Afghanistan, Iraq, Mali, Libya, Egypt, Syria and other countries.
Officials disavowed the idea of a “war against terrorism” that was described by President George W. Bush.
Obama rejects “the notion of a global war on terrorism, which is an amorphous definition that applies to a tactic … [that is] open-ended and expansive in nature and is not precise in terms of who we are fighting,” he said.