—Reuters (File Photo)

WASHINGTON: The White House may extend its campaign of drone strikes against al Qaeda to target the desert bases of the group's north African arm, the Washington Post reported Tuesday.

A spokesman for President Barack Obama's National Security Council would not confirm details of the debate, which The Post said involved officials from the Central Intelligence Agency, the State Department and the Pentagon.

But NSC spokesman Tommy Vietor told AFP: “The president has been clear about his goal to destroy al Qaeda's network and we work toward that goal every day.

“It shouldn't come as a surprise that the White House holds meetings on a variety of subjects, including a number of counterterrorism issues,” he added.

A Pentagon official confirmed to AFP that discussion of al Qaeda's north African wing had gained greater urgency since a deadly assault last month on a US consulate in Libya killed four Americans including the US ambassador.

There is growing concern among American policymakers that al Qaeda's African franchise has gained in influence and strength since taking control of large swaths of Mali and gaining control of weapons from post-revolutionary Libya.

Northern and eastern Mali has been overrun by several rebel factions, including Islamist rebels linked to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa.

Last week, Mali, France and west African nations urged the United Nations to approve the creation of an African-led force to help Mali recapture the land it lost in March after the government was overthrown by frustrated soldiers.

The top US diplomat for Africa, Johnnie Carson, told journalists on Monday that the United States would only support a “well planned” and “well resourced” African-led force to help oust Islamist rebels in northern Mali.

Unmanned planes, some operated secretly by the CIA, some by the military, already carry out near daily strikes against alleged extremists operating in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen.

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