Today the US State Department pulled out all of their government personnel from Benghazi – essential personnel and non-essential alike. In the wake of the attack on the US consulate, they have determined the city too unsafe, even after residents drove militia groups operating in Benghazi from their bases. The FBI has still not reached the site of the consulate attack as part of their investigation.

Nevertheless, the word from the highest levels in Washington remains that the US will seek “justice” for the deaths of four Americans in the attack in Benghazi, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. How that will come to pass in Benghazi, and in other trouble spots in North Africa, is no doubt the subject of these secret meetings revealed by the Washington Post.

The White House has held a series of secret meetings in recent months to examine the threat posed by al-Qaeda’s franchise in North Africa and consider for the first time whether to prepare for unilateral strikes, U.S. officials said.

The deliberations reflect concern that al-Qaeda’s African affiliate has become more dangerous since gaining control of large pockets of territory in Mali and acquiring weapons from post-revolution Libya. The discussions predate the Sept. 11 attacks on U.S. compounds in Libya but gained urgency after the assaults there were linked to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM.

U.S. officials said the discussions have focused on ways to help regional militaries confront al-Qaeda but have also explored the possibility of direct U.S. intervention if the terrorist group continues unchecked.

In other words, we have another set of planning for the next generation of the war of terror.

That this is happening while, at the same time, the US has given up on any hopes of an Afghan peace deal, in the 11th year of that endless quagmire, should raise a lot of eyebrows. We bungled into Afghanistan without a real plan, and now we cannot extricate ourselves. The reaction to this is to engage in another round of military interventions in unfamiliar territory, in the name of “security”?

Of course, the North African war plan will feature a different kind of intervention, the one that involves robot planes dropping bombs from the sky. The US would “support” counter-terrorism or peacekeeping efforts, and do so through both funding the native African forces, and through targeted strikes on Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. The surveillance drone missions over the Sahara have already begun. Administration officials are taking a similar posture to what they took in Yemen, where they’ve dropped 33 drone strikes just in 2012.

Apparently a “target package” is in the midst of preparation in Libya, designed to capture or kill those determined responsible for the attack on the consulate.

If you can figure out what the coup and regional struggle in Mali has to do with US interests, let me know. And there’s not much indication that AQIM can project beyond their regional borders. We don’t even have confirmation that the planned terrorist attack on the US consulate in Benghazi came from Al Qaeda-linked militants. I don’t think it really matches up to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. One analyst called AQIM “the most underperforming affiliate of al-Qaeda.”

Of course, the US already drops drone strikes in Africa, over Somalia (and maybe over Mali; a “mystery airstrike” killed seven there in June). Maybe we should just leave it up to the drones to decide whether AQIM represents enough of a threat that we have to take them out.