March 28, 2006


Targeted Killings Only Work For A While (Oxford Analytica, 03.28.06)

The available data suggest that decapitation offers clear strategic advantages in the short-medium term. However, over time, the practice may undermine the perpetrator-state's objectives:

-- Benefits: Israel has been the most prominent and successful proponent of targeted killing. Although undoubtedly brutal, its policy has been effective.

-- Drawbacks and dangers: While targeted killing may help deter and disrupt attacks by terrorist or insurgent enemies, there is a strong case that it also alienates the "hearts and minds" of surrounding civilians. Winning over these individuals is a prerequisite for long-term success in any counter-terrorist campaign.

Targeted killing operations can have a significant short-medium term disruptive affect on terrorist organisations. Therefore, Washington is likely continue the practice, despite concerns that it may be counterproductive over the long term.

You know what? At the end of the day, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin is still dead.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 28, 2006 3:43 PM

If we had successfully targeted Hitler, we surely would have lost a lot of hearts and minds around him, but millions of other people would have been saved.
"Drawbacks and dangers: ... it also alienates the "hearts and minds" of surrounding civilians." It depends on the mentality of the surrounding civilians. If the civilians voted on their own volition terrorists to power, what "hearts and minds" are you going to win by being nice to them? If the civilians believed the only reason that you didn't kill them was because you were weak not because of your humanistic compassion, what "hearts and minds" will you win? If the surrounding civilians' goal was to wipe you off the face of the world, even if they had to sacrfice their young to do so, what "hearts and minds" will you win?
In the long one, we will all be dead. In the short and medium runs, we'd rather those who tried to kill us and our families be dead first.

Posted by: ic at March 28, 2006 4:15 PM

One doesn't have to read up on too much history to realize that the strange notion that anti-insurgent warfare is inherently a losing proposition (a la the claims that Vietnam was, and Iraq is, "unwinnable") is completely and totally unsupportable.

It doesn't even take much of a long-term perspective. Only 15 years ago the Shining Path was considered the most deadly and successful terrorist organization in the world, and most viewed the Peruvian gov't as helpless to defeat them. Then the head scumbag was caught, and poof! the Shining Path was essentially gone.

Posted by: b at March 28, 2006 4:43 PM

When the Turks put the head of the Kurdish rebels, Abdullah Ocalan, on trial it destroyed them too.

Posted by: oj at March 28, 2006 4:49 PM

"Shining Path was essentially gone"

Yes but,

In the Peruvian Presidential election "Ollanta Humala has jumped to the first position form almost zero thanks to his populist rhetoric and the support he received from other presidents of the region as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Bolivia’s Evo Morales"

Posted by: h-man at March 28, 2006 8:06 PM

One of the most childish misinterpretations of international law and the law of war is the idea that enemy command and control assets are protected persons.

I once heard a squid JAG speaker opine that the Yamamoto shoot-down had been illegal as an assassination. I rose during the Q&A to inquire whether, since the aircraft carrying Yamamoto had been a marked military transport, it would have been "legal" to shoot it down if we had not known Yamamoto was aboard.

The question got a good laugh and admissions that assassination means something other than targeting commanders, and that, perhaps the Yamamoto case had been a poor example.

Targeting hostile commanders has always been part of the American way of war. We need only recall that the British CG's at both Baltimore and New Orleans in the War of 1812 were bith killed by snipers.

I would agree that a covert assassin using, say, poison, or striking in civilian clothing, is in violation of the LoW, but I have absolutely no problemn with taking out a bad-guy honcho with a PGM.

Posted by: Lou Gots at March 28, 2006 8:11 PM

I just can't get over how much Sheikh Ahmed Yassin looks like Saruman.

Posted by: Gideon at March 28, 2006 8:17 PM

The available data suggest that self-defense offers clear strategic advantages in the short-medium term. However, over time, the practice may undermine the perpetrator-state's objectives.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at March 29, 2006 3:16 AM

The problem is not targetted assassinations, but that the world community has not developed an effective way to address war waged by non-state agents (terrorists).

Israel's problems is not that it does too much, but that every time it has had a chance to break the enemy's morale and end the war, the international community has found some inane way to stop it.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at March 29, 2006 12:52 PM