Military Wiki

Manhunting is the deliberate identification, capturing, or killing of senior or otherwise important enemy combatants, classified as high-value targets, usually by special operations forces and intelligence organizations. According to a 2008 study,[1] since 1968, 40% of armed non-state groups met their end because local police and intelligence agencies arrested or killed key members.

A response to asymmetric tactics adopted by terrorists, insurgents, pirates, narco-traffickers, arms proliferators, and other non-state actors, manhunting has been adopted by military and intelligence organizations to reduce collateral damage that would occur during a conventional military assault.

The most visible such operations conducted today involve counterterrorist activities. Some involve government-sanctioned targeted killing or extrajudicial execution. Operations to capture terrorists have drawn political and legal controversy. See Legal Issues below. Other military operations, such as hostage rescue or personnel recovery, employ similar tactics and techniques. The primary difference in hostage rescue or personnel recovery is that the person being rescued or recovered wants to be found; while high-value targets want to avoid being found.

Manhunting operations in history

Ancient times through conquest of the New World

  • The Athenian general Alcibiades was assassinated in 404 BC.[2]
  • International manhunting dates to Alexander the Great's pursuit of Darius III.
  • Chinese General Sun Tzu advocated assassination as a strategic method in his classic work The Art of War.
  • The Romans pursued Hannibal Barca after the Second Punic War.
  • The Hashashim, a mystic sect of warriors, cultivated a fearsome reputation with assassinations of opposing leaders, often in mosques or other public places.
  • Feudal Japan's Ninja or Shinobi warrior sect adopted similar techniques.
  • Vlad Tepes, a.k.a. Dracula, carried out The Night Attack in an attempt to kill the Ottoman leader, Mehmet II.
  • The conquest of the Aztec Empire resulted from Hernán Cortés' capture of Aztec ruler Montezuma II.
  • Francisco Pizarro later repeated the tactic against the Inca ruler Atahuallpa.

World War II


In 1967, Che Guevara was pursued by the Bolivian military, who were poorly trained and equipped. The U.S. government sent a team of the CIA's Special Activities Division commandos and other operatives into Bolivia to aid the anti-insurrection effort. The Bolivian Army was also trained, advised, and supplied by U.S. Army Special Forces including a recently organized elite battalion of Rangers trained in jungle warfare that set up camp in La Esperanza, a small settlement close to the location of Guevara's guerrillas.[5] Félix Rodríguez, a Cuban exile turned CIA Special Activities Division operative, advised Bolivian troops during the hunt for Guevara in Bolivia.[6] On October 7, an informant apprised the Bolivian Special Forces of the location of Guevara's guerrilla encampment in the Yuro ravine. They encircled the area with 1,800 soldiers, and Guevara was wounded and taken prisoner while leading a detachment with Simeón Cuba Sarabia.[7] On October 9, Bolivian President René Barrientos ordered that Guevara be summarily executed.[8]



See Algerian War and counterinsurgency operations conducted against the Red Hand.

France deployed GIGN antiterrorist police and the French Navy to capture Somali pirates who had seized the 850-ton yacht Le Ponant. On April 11, 2008, the French forces captured six of 10 pirates as they attempted to escape with a $2 million ransom.[12] The French operations brought publicity to the work of NATO's Combined Task Force 150. CTF 150, established shortly before the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom, conducts Maritime Security Operations (MSO) in the Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea, Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. In August 2008, CTF 150 established a Maritime Security Patrol Area in the Gulf of Aden to combat Somali piracy.[13]



Jemaah Islamiya terror suspect Noordin Mohammed Top was killed during a raid on his hideout by counterterrorism police in Temanggung, Central Java on August 8, 2009.[14]


US Special Forces capture Saddam Hussein on December 13, 2003.

Iraqi security forces seized Ayad Jalal Abdulwahab, an aide to Saddam Hussein's former vice president Izzat al-Douri on October 13, 2009 in a helicopter raid in Diyala province. U.S. and Iraqi forces captured Abdulwahab in the town of Qara Tappa, 55 miles (89 km) northeast of Baqubah.[15]

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and US officials announced on Apr 19, 2010 that two leaders of al-Qaeda in Iraq had been killed in a joint Iraqi-US operation. al-Qaeda leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, who led an affiliate group, were killed in the joint raid which took place in Thar-Thar, west of Baghdad. The house was destroyed and the two bodies were found in a hole in the ground in which they had been hiding. Mr Maliki said, "During the operation computers were seized with e-mails and messages to the two biggest terrorists, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri." In a statement, the commander of US forces in Iraq, Gen Raymond T. Odierno, said: "The death of these terrorists is potentially the most significant blow to al-Qaeda in Iraq since the beginning of the insurgency."[16]


Israel may have the most advanced and experienced manhunters.

Israel has continued to employ the targeted killing of violent radical opponents. Notable operations include:

  • April 1973, when Israeli commandos landed in Beirut and killed senior members of the Fatah movement including Yasir Arafat's deputy Yusuf Najjar and the Fatah spokesman Kamal Nasir.
  • Israel may have been behind the 1979 explosion in Beirut that killed Ali Hassan Salameh, founder of Fatah's elite Force 17.
  • In April 1988 an Israeli commando force landed in Tunis and killed the head of the (PLO) military branch Khalil al Wazir (Abu Jihad).
  • In February 1992, Israeli helicopters fired on the car of Hizbullah leader Abbas Musawi, killing him and members of his entourage.
  • In October 1995, following a series of suicide attacks which claimed the lives of dozens of Israelis, Mossad agents shot and killed the head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), Fathi Shaqaqi, in Malta.
  • In January 1996, three months later, a booby-trapped cellular phone exploded, killing Hamas member Yahya Ayyash, also known as "The Engineer," who masterminded suicide attacks in which 50 Israelis died and 340 were wounded.
  • On September 25, 1997, an attempt to kill Khaled Meshal, the Jordanian-based political chief of Hamas, went awry. A struggle ensued. Two Mossad agents were arrested, along with Meshal's driver Mohammed Abu Saif. When Meshal fell ill, Jordanian police suspected he had been exposed to a toxic agent. An international debacle ensued. King Hussein nearly severed relations between Israel and Jordan. U.S. sponsored negotiations with the Palestinians faltered. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was forced to provide an antidote to save Meshal's life, and to release Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the founder and spiritual leader of Hamas, who had been in custody.[17] In the wake of an Israeli investigation,[18] Danny Yatom, director of Mossad, resigns in 1998.[19]
  • Amal's operations officer, Hussam al Amin, was killed in an Apache helicopter attack in August 1998.[20]
  • On November 9, 2000, near the West Bank town of Bethlehem, an Israeli Apache helicopter fired a laser-guided missile at the vehicle of Tanzim leader Husayn Abayat, killing him and wounding his deputy.[21]
  • Similar operations on February 13, 2001 killed Masud Iyyad, a Force 17 officer trying to establish a Hizbullah cell in the Gaza Strip, and PIJ activist Muhammad abd al Al, who according to the IDF was responsible for terrorist acts and was on his way to carry out two major attacks.
  • On July 22, 2002, a 2,000 lb (910 kg) bomb dropped from an F-16 fighter killed Salah Shihada, the leader and founder of Hamas' military wing of Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades in Gaza.
  • Ahmed Yassin was killed in an Israeli attack on March 22, 2004. While he was being wheeled out of an early morning prayer session, an Israeli helicopter gunship fired Hellfire missiles at Yassin and both of his bodyguards. They were killed instantly, along with nine bystanders.[22][23]
  • Israeli Defense Forces revealed that an April 14, 2008 air strike by an unmanned aerial vehicle killed Ibrahim abu Alba; Palestinian sources confirm his death. A member of the military wing of the Palestinian Democratic Front responsible for operations in northern Gaza, the IDF said Alba was responsible for rocket attacks and a recent infiltration into Israel that had injured three soldiers. The IDF stated Alba was planning another attack when he was killed near Beit Hanoun.[24]
  • On April 16, 2008, a helicopter airstrike kills Mohammed Ghausain, Islamic Jihad's commander in northern Gaza.[25]
  • On New Years Day 2009, Israel begins air strikes targeting Hamas in the Gaza Strip after militants repeatedly fire rockets into Israel. On January 1, Nizar Rayyan, a Hamas leader who urged suicide attacks against Israel, is killed in an air strike on his home in the northern Gaza Strip. Rayyan was the most senior Hamas leader to be killed since the death of Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi in April 2004. Rayyan claimed, "we will kill the enemy and take hostages" during a Dec 31, 2008 interview on Hamas’ al-Aqsa television channel. The strike kills at least four other people in the Jabaliya refugee camp, including some members of his family. Subsequent IDF operations target the homes of Hamas leadership.[26]
  • The Jan 19, 2010 targeted killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, who was suspected of planning the transfer of weapons from Iran to Hamas, has widely been attributed to Israel's Mossad intelligence service.

Legal and ethical Issues about targeted killing

  • On December 14, 2006 the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that targeted killing is a legitimate form of self-defense against terrorists, and outlined several conditions for its use.[27] This decision, arrived at after four years of deliberation, may establish precedent for international law.
  • Israel's policy of targeted killing has been censured by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in the past. But these actions have been widely discredited as a disproportionate UNHRC bias against Israel. Even the UN Secretary General has expressed disappointment at UNHRC's apparent focus on Israel, while other human rights violations go unaddressed.[28][29]
  • Elyezer Shkedy, the recently retired Israeli Air Force commander, claims IAF operations only comprised 5% of targeted killings in 2003–04, while in 2007-8, IAF strikes comprised 50–70% of targeted killing operations. “Bystander fatalities” decreased from 50 of 100 Palestinians killed (1:1 ratio), to 1 in 25 (24:1 ratio). In the final months of 2007, 98 terrorists were killed with a single bystander fatality (98:1 ratio). While the IAF does not provide detailed data of these operations, B'Tselem (the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories) communications director Sarit Michaeli acknowledges improvements in IAF accuracy.[30]

North Korea

North Korea secretly sent a 31-man detachment from its 124th Army Unit into the Republic of Korea to kill President Park Chung-hee, nearly succeeding in a Jan 21, 1968 raid on the Blue House.[31]



See War in North-West Pakistan


See Abimael Guzman, Shining Path and DINCOTE


In the Rhodesian/Zimbabwe War of Independence (Chimurenga War, 1966–1980), the Selous Scout were officially credited with either directly or indirectly being responsible for 68% of all insurgents killed, while losing less than 40 scouts in the process.[32] The Selous Scouts, Grey's Scouts and Tracker Combat Unit were formed to pursue Zambian terrorists deep into the African bush. Their first operational use was in 1967.[33][34]

Soviet Union and Russian Federation

  • On the orders of Joseph Stalin and Lavrenti Beria, Stalinist Ramon Mercador assassinated exiled Communist ideologue Leon Trotsky in Mexico City in 1940.
  • Afghanistan. On December 27, 1979, 700 Soviet troops dressed in Afghan uniforms, including KGB and GRU special force officers from the Alpha Group and Zenith Group, occupied major governmental, military and media buildings in Kabul, including their primary target – the Tajbeg Presidential Palace. At 19:15, the assault on Tajbeg Palace began; as planned, president Hafizullah Amin was killed.

A Soviet Spetsnaz (special operations) team prepares to seek Mujahideen in Afghanistan, 1988.

  • Soviet Spetznaz and GRU conducted extensive operations against Mujahideen warriors in the mid-1980s. The Afghan resistance movement, assisted by the United States, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, People's Republic of China and others, contributed to Moscow's high military costs and strained international relations. The US viewed the conflict in Afghanistan as an integral Cold War struggle, and the CIA provided assistance to anti-Soviet forces through the Pakistani intelligence services, in a program called Operation Cyclone.[35][36] A similar movement occurred in other Muslim countries, bringing contingents of so-called Afghan Arabs, foreign fighters who wished to wage jihad against the atheist communists. Notable among them was a young Saudi named Osama bin Laden, whose Arab group eventually evolved into al-Qaeda.[37][38]
  • See Second Chechen War and List of Second Chechen War assassinations


Under increasing international pressure, Serbian authorities extradited former Serbian nationalist Radovan Karadzic to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. A fugitive from 1996 until July 2008, Karadzic was indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).[39] The indictment concluded there were reasonable grounds for believing he committed war crimes including genocide, against Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat civilians during the Bosnian War (1992–1995).[40] He was arrested in Belgrade on July 21, 2008 and brought before Belgrade’s War Crimes Court a few days later.[41] He was extradited to the Netherlands, and is currently in The Hague, in the custody of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.[42]

United Kingdom

  • British Special Air Service manhunting operations were conducted during the Malayan Emergency, against key Irish Republican Army operatives, and as part of global counterterrorism missions.
  • Britain employed groups of Iban and Dayak tribesmen as jungle trackers during the Malayan Emergency, attaching the skilled natives to British forces. The trackers were later formed into the Sarawak Rangers.
  • Britain developed specialized tactics six months after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, under the code name Operation Kratos.[43] The "tactics have been developed to include a specialised response to both the sudden appearance of a suspect where we have intelligence they may be about to commit a deadly attack and for the surveillance of suspects identified through intelligence.... These tactics are only ever used when absolutely necessary."[44]
  • British Special Air Service forces, operating in concert with United States Special Operations Forces, disrupted suicide bomber networks responsible for over 3000 deaths in Baghdad, Iraq. Over 3500 members of the bomb making networks were captured or killed in an 18-month period from 2007 to 2008. Most of the hundreds of network members killed were members of Al Qaeda in Iraq. The SAS suffered 6 killed and over 30 injured, many due to rappelling from helicopters with over 100 pounds of equipment.[45][46]

United States

The United States has used armed forces or militia to apprehend people deemed threats to national security since colonial times.[47]

Colonial period

  • In 1644, Virginia Governor William Berkeley dispatched a colonial militia to apprehend Powhatan chief Opchanacanough.
  • King Philip's War turned badly for the Wampanoag in July 1676. Metacom, chief of the Wampanoag Confederacy and known to Massachusetts settlers as King Philip, goes into hiding with seven men near Providence, Rhode Island, in Assowamset Swamp. Captains Benjamin Church and Josiah Standish of the Plymouth Colony Militia lead a raiding party, tracking Metacom to Mt. Hope, Rhode Island. An Indian named John Alderman shoots Metacom on August 12. His body is beheaded, drawn and quartered and displayed in Plymouth for many years.
  • Revolutionary militia caused an uproar by intentionally targeting British and Hessian officers with sniper fire during and after the battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775.[48]
  • When Congress creates the Continental Army in 1775, a call is issued to form ten companies of volunteer riflemen from various colonies. Daniel Morgan is selected to lead one of two companies of sharpshooters from Virginia. The sharpshooters are encouraged to shoot enemy officers, noncommissioned officers, and other important "strategic targets" like artillerymen as targets. In the Battle of Cowpens, General Morgan ordered his defending riflemen to "aim for the epaulets," clearly ordering his men to target British officers. After the battle, 39 of 100 British dead were officers—a disproportionate casualty rate.[49]
  • In July 1776, Daniel Boone pursued a Shawnee raiding party through the Kentucky wilderness to rescue his daughter Jemima and two friends. The adventure inspired James Fenimore Cooper to write The Last of the Mohicans.

Indian Wars

The United States Army was sent to pursue leaders or small bands of Native Americans who defied the U.S. government, including Black Hawk, Chief Joseph, Geronimo and Victorio.

American Civil War

  • John S. Mosby planned his 17-man raid on Fairfax Courthouse to capture Union General Edwin H. Stoughton.
  • Lafayette Baker's 1st District of Columbia Cavalry unsuccessfully tried to capture Mosby.
  • Union Colonel Ulric Dahlgren is killed in a March 5, 1864 cavalry raid on Richmond. On his body, Confederates discover a letter ordering the capture and execution of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The incident becomes known as The Dahlgren Affair and leads to an investigation and personal denial by Union General Ulysses S. Grant[50]
  • Lafayette Baker is recalled to active duty to pursue Abraham Lincoln's Confederate assassins, including John Wilkes Booth.

Early 1900s

  • The 20th century began with the United States intervention in the Philippines, as the Army sought out individual insurrectos in a concerted counterinsurgency campaign.
  • American political influence was employed in 1904 in a manhunt for Ion Perdicaris, who had been taken captive by Mulai Ahmed er Raisuni.
  • In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson ordered the Mexican Expedition to end Pancho Villa's expeditions in the American Southwest.

World War II

A squadron of P-38 Lightning twin-engined fighters was sent to shoot down Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto's transport aircraft in Operation Vengeance, downing his bomber on April 18, 1943 as it approached Bougainville.

Vietnam War


A shift in US national security policy began to emerge in the late 20th century, as national leaders began to identify individuals as adversaries, rather than countries. This became evident in the hunts for:

Remains of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's safe house, June 8, 2006.

Manhunting after September 11, 2001

See also War on Terrorism

  • US military manhunting operations included Operation Red Dawn, the apprehension of Saddam Hussein,[55][56] along with operations to apprehend key Ba'ath party leaders, and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi,[57] along with the capture or death of al Qaeda and Taliban leaders.[58][59] The U.S. military issued a deck of Most-wanted Iraqi playing cards to assist in the identification and apprehension of key Iraqi leaders.[2]
  • Manhunting proved an effective tactic to capture key members of Al Qaeda in Iraq[60] and to disrupt networks employing improvised explosive devices and explosively formed projectiles against U.S. forces in Iraq.[61][62]
  • The Pentagon acknowledged an aggressive hunt for terrorists was taking place in the Horn of Africa in 2007.[63] As part of Operation Enduring Freedom - Horn of Africa, The Ethiopian Premier claimed that the United States targeted 20 terrorists in Somalia[64] in January 2007. In September 2009, United States Special Forces and Navy SEALs recovered the body of Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan after Nabhan was killed in an air strike by AH-6 Little Bird special operations helicopters in Operation Celestial Balance.[65]
  • The United States reportedly operates two targeted killing programs employing Predator unmanned aerial vehicles: The first, conducted by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), carries out surveillance and strike missions in areas recognized as war zones, and thus are an extension of combat operations. The second, not officially acknowledged, is conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency in areas outside of officially recognized war zones.[66] Manhunting activities accelerated in August–September 2008 along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region. Officials remarked the rise in attacks by Predator UAVs and Hellfire missiles was due to a desire to strike decisively at al Qaeda senior leaders in the waning months of the Bush administration.[67][68][69][70][71][72][73] In 2009, the Barack Obama administration reaffirmed its commitment to lethal strikes, when CIA Director Leon Panetta confirmed the strikes had been successful to date, and would continue.[74] Since that date, strikes against Pakistan-based high-value targets have trebled.[75] Some question the cost vs. benefit of drone attacks, which admittedly deplete the ranks of senior al Qaeda leaders, but also polarize public opinion.[76][77][78] Strike accuracy appeared to improve in 2008–2009, with collateral damage reduced as frequency of operations increased.[79] See also Drone attacks in Pakistan.
  • On July 13, 2009, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had initiated a secret program in 2001 to capture or kill senior al Qaeda leaders. Director Leon Panetta reportedly halted the program, which had not progressed beyond the planning and preparation stages.[80][81][82]
  • In October 2009, United States Air Force MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles were deployed for the first time to patrol the waters off Somalia in hopes of stemming piracy.[83]
  • In Afghanistan, Interior Minister General Mohammed Daud Daud expressed opposition to the addition of approximately 50 suspected drug kingpins to a list of individuals approved for capture or killing by U.S. and NATO forces. U.S. officers stated that the list complied with international law and the military's rules of engagement, because it only listed drug lords thought to support the insurgency. A U.S. military spokesman stated that narcotics trafficking was used to finance insurgency.[84]
  • On May 2, 2011, United States Special Operations Forces, including Navy SEALs and CIA operatives, conducted a daring raid into Abbotabad, Pakistan with the intention to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. Shortly after a helicopter assault into a large compound, bin Ladin was identified and killed. See main article: Death of Osama bin Laden

Military manhunts within the United States

  • Military reconnaissance aircraft helped domestic law enforcement look for the Beltway sniper.[85]
  • The Department of Defense can be called on to support the Department of Homeland Security during designated National Special Security Events.

Legal controversy

  • Manhunting is a challenging legal issue. Since the September 11 attacks in 2001, Israel and the United States have labeled manhunting as "targeted killings" against "enemy combatants," thus constituting legitimate military targets for military action.[86]
  • Contemporary international law provides two distinct normative paradigms which govern targeted killings in situations of law enforcement and the conduct of hostilities. Any targeted killing not directed against a legitimate military target remains subject to the law enforcement paradigm, which imposes extensive restraints on the practice. Even under the paradigm of hostilities, no person can be lawfully liquidated without further considerations.[87]
  • In 2009, Philip Alston, an Australian human rights lawyer, presented a report to the United Nations Human Rights Commission that Predator drone strikes may violate international law. Alston filed a Study on targeted killings with the Geneva-based commission in May 2010.[88][89]
  • Spokesmen for the Central Intelligence Agency responded that the Agency "uses lawful, highly accurate, and effective tools and tactics to take the fight to Al Qaeda and its violent allies. That careful, precise approach has brought major success against a very dangerous and deadly enemy." The Department of Defense program, which is publicly acknowledged, operates in the recognized war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq, and targets enemies of U.S. troops stationed there. As such, it is an extension of conventional warfare.[66] CIA Director Leon Panetta defended the practice, stating that CIA targets enemies of the United States, "and we have deliberately made sure that only those that represent those kinds of targets are the ones we're going to go after."[90]
  • Efforts to capture and interrogate terrorist suspects have also resulted in controversy. The practice of extraordinary rendition has been called into question by human rights organizations and international law experts, because it circumvents standard criminal law processes and methods. Methodology employed for the interrogation of terrorist suspects have also raised ethical, moral and legal concerns. Approval of "enhanced interrogation techniques" by Bush administration officials was deemed by many to violate the spirit, if not the letter of the United States Code and international law, including the Hague Conventions and Geneva Conventions. Opponents also charge the employment of targeted killing is a violation of Executive Order 12333, itself a result of concerns about assassination expressed by the Church Committee investigations during the 1970s.
  • The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights issued two reports regarding the use of "intrusive means" to counter terrorism, and secret detention.[91][92] Western governments widely criticized the reports as politically motivated and hypocritical, as many of the countries seated on the United Nations Human Rights Committee have questionable human rights histories.
  • On January 13, 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the United States Government, including the Department of Defense, Central Intelligence Agency, Department of State and Department of Justice. The FOIA request asked the government to disclose the legal basis for its use of predator drones to conduct "targeted killings" overseas. In particular, the ACLU seeks to find out when, where and against whom drone strikes can be authorized, and how the United States ensures compliance with international laws relating to extrajudicial killings.[93] The FOIA request was followed up when the ACLU filed suit on Mar 16, 2010. In particular, the lawsuit asks for information on when, where and against whom drone strikes can be authorized, the number and rate of civilian casualties, and other basic information essential for assessing the wisdom and legality of using armed drones to conduct targeted killings. According to the ACLU, State Department spokesman Harold Koh announced in March 2010 that State will provide a legal justification at a date to be determined.[94]

Formal United States policy beginning in 2010

On March 26, 2010, in a speech before the American Society of International Law, United States Department of State Legal Advisor Harold Koh formally announced the United States' legal interpretation of international law with respect to targeted killing. Koh first stated that "U.S. targeting practices, including lethal operations conducted with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), comply with all applicable law, including the laws of war." He further explained that the United States is in "an armed conflict with al Qaeda, the Taliban, and the associated forces" and thus has the lawful right to use force "consistent with its inherent right to self-defense" under international law[95] in response to the 9/11 attacks. Under domestic law, he stated that targeted killings are authorized by the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). Although he contended that these international and domestic legal grounds "continue to this day," he also provided additional justification for current U.S. actions based on continued attacks and intent by al Qaeda. He concluded that the existence of this "ongoing armed conflict" grants legal authority to the United States to protect its citizens through the use of force, including lethal force, as a matter of self-defense. Koh then addressed specific legal reasoning and standards considered by the United States "when defending itself against high-level leaders planning the attacks." He reiterated the widely accepted conceptualization of an "organized terrorist enemy" as one that does not have conventional forces. Instead, such an enemy plans and executes its attacks while hiding among civilian populations, he said. As such, "that behavior simultaneously makes the application of international law more difficult and more critical for the protection of innocent civilians." Koh identified three elements related to situational considerations that the United States uses when determining whether a specific targeted drone killing at a particular location will occur:

  • Imminence of the threat
  • Sovereignty of other States involved
  • Willingness and ability of those States to suppress the threat the target poses

Koh stated that the "rules" of targeting operations used by the United States are consistent with principles under the laws of war. He cited two well-known principles that govern the State's use of force during an armed conflict: distinction and proportionality. These principles are designed to protect civilians once armed conflict has begun. They are recognized under customary international law as part of Jus in Bello (conduct during war).

  • Distinction: Requires that attacks be limited to military objectives and that civilians or civilian objects shall not be the object of the attack.
  • Proportionality: Prohibits attacks that may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, that would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.

Koh said that the United States adheres to these standards and that the United States takes great care in the "planning and execution to ensure that only legitimate objectives are targeted and that collateral damage is kept to a minimum."[96]

See also


  1. Seth G. Jones, Martin C. Libicki, How Terrorist Groups End: Lessons for Countering al Qa'ida, RAND, Jul 2008
  4. Mark Seaman, "The Foxley Report: Secret Operations in World War Two," BBC, 2003
  5. U.S. Army 1967 and Ryan 1998, pp. 82–102, inter alia. "U.S. military personnel in Bolivia never exceeded 53 advisers, including a sixteen-man Mobile Training Team (MTT) from the 8th Special Forces Group based at Fort Gulick, Panama Canal Zone" (Selvage 1985).
  6. Shadow Warrior: The CIA Hero of 100 Unknown Battles, Felix Rodriguez and John Weisman, Simon & Schuster, October 1989
  7. Anderson 1997, p.733.
  8. "Bidding for Che", Time Magazine, Dec 15, 1967
  9. Jeremy McDermott, "FARC Aura of Invincibility Shattered," BBC News,March 1, 2008
  10. Juan Forero, "Colombian Officials Recount Rescue Plan," Washington Post, Jul 6, 2008, p.12
  11. Juan Forero, "In Colombia Jungle Ruse, U.S. Played A Quiet Role," Washington Post, Jul 9, 2008, p.1.
  12. "Video shows pirates pursued, captured",, April 15, 2008
  13. Maritime Security Patrol Area to be Established
  14. "Noordin Top is Dead," The Straits Times, Aug 8, 2009
  15. Sahar Issa, "Iraq Nabs Aide to Most-Wanted Enemy", Philadelphia Inquirer, Oct 13, 2009
  16. Jim Muir, "Senior Iraqi al-Qaeda leaders 'killed'", BBC News, April 19, 2010
  17. Lisa Beyer, "A Hit Gone Wrong," TIME, Oct. 13, 1997
  18. Douglas Jehl, "Netanyahu Enmeshed In Fiasco, Panels Told," New York Times, November 5, 1997
  19. Tracy Wilkinson, "Director of Israeli Spy Agency Resigns," Los Angeles Times, Feb 25, 1998.
  20. "Casualties among civilians and resistance men rise as Israeli attacks continue on the South", News, August 25, 1998
  21. Gal Luft, "The Logic of Israel's Targeted Killing", Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2003, pp. 3–13
  22. "The life and death of Shaikh Yasin". Al Jazeera. March 27, 2004. Retrieved August 7, 2007. 
  23. "". Retrieved June 18, 2007. 
  24. "Israeli airstrike kills Palestinian militant,", April 14, 2008
  25. "Israel kills top Palestinian commander," PressTV, April 16, 2008
  26. “Hamas Leader Killed in Air Strike,” BBC News, Jan 1, 2009
  27. Summary of Israeli Supreme Court Ruling on Targeted Killings, December 14, 2006
  28. Jackson Diehl, "A Shadow on the Human Rights Movement," June 25, 2007; Page A19, Washington post
  29. Compilation of UNCHR resolution, 2006–2007 from Eye on the UN
  30. Barbara Opall-Rome, “Israel: Airstrike Accuracy Doubled in 2 Years,” Defense News, Vol 23, No 21, May 26, 2008,
  31. Bradley K. Martin, Under the Loving Care of the Dear Leader, MacMillan, 2006, ISBN 0-312-32322-0, pp 127–8
  32. T.A.L. "Dozer", SELOUS SCOUTS website
  33. David Scott-Donelan, "Zambezi Valley Manhunt", Selous Scouts Website
  34. David Scott-Donelan, Combat Tracking (Mantracking), Selous Scouts Website
  35. "How the CIA created Osama bin Laden". Green Left Weekly. September 19, 2001. Archived from the original on August 3, 2012. Retrieved January 9, 2007. 
  36. "1986–1992: CIA and British Recruit and Train Militants Worldwide to Help Fight Afghan War". History Commons. Retrieved January 9, 2007. 
  37. [1] Sageman, Marc Understanding Terror Networks, chapter 2, University of Pennsylvania Press, May 1, 2004
  38. "Did the U.S. "Create" Osama bin Laden?(2005-01-14)". US Department of State. Retrieved March 28, 2007. 
  39. "Serbia captures fugitive Karadzic". BBC. July 22, 2008. Retrieved July 24, 2008. 
  40. "Serbia captures fugitive Karadzic". JANG News. JANG. July 21, 2008. Retrieved July 21, 2008. [dead link]
  41. "Serbia captures fugitive Karadzic". BBC News. BBC. July 21, 2008. Retrieved July 21, 2008. 
  42. "Case Information Sheet". Retrieved July 20, 2009. [dead link]
  43. Operation Kratos London Metropolitan Police, 2008
  44. Memorandum referring to "Counter Suicide Terrorism, London Metropolitan Police Authority, Aug 8, 2005
  45. Sean Rayment, "SAS kills hundreds of terrorists in 'secret war' against al-Qaeda in Iraq,",, Aug 31, 2008
  46. Thomas Harding, "Secret work of SAS in Iraq exposed,", Aug 11, 2008
  47. George A. Crawford, Manhunting: Counter-Network Organization for Irregular Warfare, Joint Special Operations University, Sep 2009
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