U.S. forces were given the green light Tuesday to target U.S.-born radical Islamist preacher and supposed al Qaeda "regional commander," Anwar al-Awlaki, according to the Reuters news agency. As the report enumerates, the Obama administration has officially weighed in on what has long been a lingering question surrounding the targeting of those engaged in terrorism: whether American citizens are acceptable targets. With this most recent decision:
"the Obama administration has authorized operations to capture or kill [Awlaki following]… a National Security Council review prompted by his status as a U.S. citizen."
If U.S. forces are to engage Awlaki – especially with drones – they must be vigilant in confirming that he is indeed the target they are eyeing in their crosshairs. In December, early reports indicated that the American-born cleric with significant ties to the Fort Hood Attacks, Christmas Day bomb plot, and perhaps even the "Jihad Jane" case, was killed in an air strike by Yemeni forces. These claims, quickly disputed by Awlaki's relatives, have now largely been discredited and Awlaki is presumed to be alive.
At this point, it is unclear what impact, if any, this executive pronouncement will have for other individual cases of Americans engaged in terrorism abroad. What does seem likely, though, is that today's news, coupled with the recent legal justification for drone attacks against terrorists issued by the Obama administration, will open the door for unmanned aerial strikes against Awlaki, who is thought to be in hiding in Yemen.