U.S. counterterrorism officials are closely watching an al-Qaida fighter in Pakistan who could become the next American to be targeted for killing by a drone strike, CNN has learned.
The person, who was not identified, has been the subject of debate among military commanders and intelligence officials for several weeks as they decide what to recommend. President Barack Obama would make a final decision.
CNN has also learned key members of Congress have been aware of the internal debate.
The officials spoke to CNN's Barbara Starr on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
The current discussions involve both military commanders in the special forces community and intelligence officials.
A key point being discussed is whether it is better to maintain surveillance to see what added intelligence can be gained about any threats to the United States, and whether additional monitoring might lead to other operatives or al-Qaida elements to target.
Under the Obama administration's policy for targeting Americans, a person would have to pose an imminent threat to the United States and there would be no reasonable prospect of capture.
A U.S. official said drone targeting inside Pakistan is very sensitive because of the fragile state of the Pakistani government, which is under pressure to ban such strikes.
As a potential strike is weighed, some officials contend that good relations with the Islamabad government is a priority so the United States can maintain some type of long-term surveillance operation of potential al-Qaida targets there.
If all U.S. troops leave neighboring Afghanistan at the end of 2014, the concern is it may be harder to maintain high priority efforts such as conducting further drone operations over Pakistan and to also monitor Pakistan's nuclear programs.
As the United States considers a strike in Pakistan, there are also recent indications that al-Qaida in Pakistan and its affiliate in Somalia, Al-Shabaab, have stepped up their links, a second official told CNN.
Jehad Serwan Mostafa, an American citizen, is currently with Al-Shabaab. He is the highest-ranking American in the group, believed to be in a remote part of southern Somalia.
The Justice Department currently has a $5 million reward on his head.
CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruikshank said there are indications Mostafa has contacts with senior al-Qaida leadership in Pakistan.
The United States failed to kill Al Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane in a drone strike in southern Somalia just a few weeks ago.
And last October, Navy SEALs failed to capture a third key leader, a man named Ikrimah. They assaulted a compound he was said to be at in southern Somalia but withdrew under heavy fire.
Although Ikrimah and Godane were said to be involved in the deadly attack last year on a shopping mall in Kenya, U.S. officials have told CNN that one reason Ikrimah was targeted was there was critical intelligence he had been communicating with operatives of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
That Yemen-based al-Qaida group is considered the most dangerous of its affiliates to U.S. security.
Former official says U.S. justified
The Obama administration would be justified using drones to kill American terrorists abroad and at home, former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told CNN on Tuesday.