Drone strikes, known as signature strikes, have been made on targets in Pakistan for several years based on observed patterns of activity. Officials whose names were not reported told The Washington Post that CIA Director David Petraeus wants similar freedom to target al-Qaida in Yemen, which now appears to be the biggest threat to the United States.
President Barack Obama and his advisers have been wary of getting the United States too involved in Yemen, the newspaper said. One fear is that U.S. actions could convert insurgents with local interests into al-Qaida fighters.
"There is still a very firm emphasis on being surgical and targeting only those who have a direct interest in attacking the United States," an administration official said.
Another senior official described al-Qaida as "joined at the hip" with a local group whose major goal is overthrowing the government of Yemen.
"I think there is the potential that we would be perceived as taking sides in a civil war," he said.