May 16th, 2013
04:05 PM ET

U.S. options to 'capture or kill' Benghazi suspects

By Barbara Starr

The U.S. military has updated plans to "capture or kill" alleged perpetrators of the deadly terror attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, CNN has learned.

The development comes amid growing pressure on the White House to show progress in the effort to catch those who killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans last September 11.

Officials emphasize that military planning has been underway since the immediate aftermath of the armed assault.

One part of the plan calls for potentially putting U.S. military personnel on the ground inside Libya, if ordered by President Barack Obama.

Two U.S. officials confirmed the details to CNN, but declined to be named because of the sensitive nature of the information.

The plan was updated and discussed at the highest levels of the military as recently as last week.

The military has a list of several targets including some inside Benghazi and others in outlying areas. There are specific individuals named who are believed associated with the Benghazi attack as well other militants the United States wants to get. There are also militant camps or stronghold areas on the list that could be attacked.

The plan has series of "capture or kill" options that Obama would have to approve. It's not known how much of this he may have been briefed about.

One military official said the military is well aware that if it is ordered into action now by the White House, it could be viewed as a political move in light of the ongoing controversy over Benghazi. But he noted that initial planning began shortly after the attack last year.

Special operations forces have stayed in the North Africa region since the attack in varying numbers to collect intelligence and be ready to launch attacks if ordered.

CNN has been asked to not say where those forces are located.

Officials are emphasizing that its possible no military options will be carried out if the United States and Libyan law enforcement make any arrests.

The information was confirmed to CNN as a result of several days of reporting. It was not offered to CNN by the officials as part of any coordinated effort to reach out to the media.

Both officials declined to specify locations or names of potential targets.

But there are briefings circulating around the administration about a potential attack plan. A separate senior U.S. official said there has been no orders from the White House to carry out any option.

The initial "capture or kill" options assembled late last year were not approved by the White House for military action.

One military official said the administration was concerned that any American military intervention could weaken the fragile Libyan government so much that it might collapse.

That argument has also been made in the more recent discussions, but several officials say intelligence about the targets has improved.

On Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder told Congress that the law enforcement investigation has made progress.

"We will be prepared shortly, I think, to reveal all that we have done," Holder told the House Judiciary Committee.

Last week, the FBI released photos of three men it is seeking information about who could "possibly be implicated" in the attack. A federal law enforcement official said the men were at the scene but it is unclear whether they were involved.

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