The standoff between the U.S. Navy and pirates off the coast of Somalia is generating debate within the Obama administration over policy toward the Horn of Africa nation.

The Washington Post has a report Saturday on how U.S. officials are discussing the more general Somalia problem, and the potential terrorist threat of the Somali extremist group, al-Shabab.

National security officials were quoted as saying a debate is taking place on whether a preemptive missile strike against al-Shabab is warranted.

U.S. officials said the group, which controls parts of Somalia, poses a dilemma.  They point to its rapid expansion, ties between its leaders and the al-Qaida terror network, and the presence of Americans and Europeans within its ranks.  But they said there is no evidence the group is planning attacks outside Somalia.

They were also quoted as saying the Obama administration differentiates itself from the former Bush administration by taking a more cautious, and less aggressive approach, on such security matters.

Previous administrations have also grappled with Somalia as a failed state.

In 1993, then President Bill Clinton ordered U.S. troops to track down a Somali warlord, leading to a long firefight in which 18 American soldiers were killed.  The battle led to the book and movie called Black Hawk Down.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.