Are Targeted Killings an Effective Counterterrorism Tool?

The Obama administration has heightened its campaign of targeted killings against suspected terrorists.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, this includes an increased use of unmanned drone strikes and “kill/capture missions” on al-Qaeda and Taliban leadership.

While some experts claim victory on such missions- such as the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, others criticize the strategies as lacking proper legal boundaries, (as  in the targeting of an American jihadist, Anwar al-Awlaki, in Yemen).

Are these targeted killings saving lives?

Are they within legal bounds?

An adjunct Senior Fellow for Law and Foreign Policy on the Council on Foreign Relations, Matthew Waxman, said U.S. policy is within legal bounds, but cautions against over reliance on targeted killings as a counterterrorism tool.

“Lethal force directed against particular individuals outside a combat zone like Afghanistan is legally and strategically appropriate in limited circumstances,” Waxman said.

According to Waxman, “As to strategy, lethal targeting is but one important tool in the counterterrorism arsenal.”

Constitutional lawyer Pardiss Kebriaei questioned the legal basis that U.S. administrations have used to justify killing suspected terrorists. She suggested it’s a violation of constitutional rights of due process.

“It takes more than declaring a global war for U.S. drone strikes in countries as disconnected from the conflict in Afghanistan as Yemen to be lawful,” Kebriaei said.

But, Professor at Georgetown University and Research Director of the Saban Center at Brookings Institution, Daniel Byman, said decapitating terrorist networks is an effective strategy.

“Killing terrorist leaders and key lieutenants not only brings justice to our enemies, but can devastate the group in question,” Byman said. “Killing a leader like bin Laden removes a charismatic yet pragmatic leader–one who succeeded in transforming a small group into a household name and proved time and again he could attract recruits and funding.”

Afghanistan expert Kate Clark said “targeted killings often produce an organizational chaos that unleashes a more radical generation of subordinates.”

“As for the other aim of the strategy,” Clark added, “persuading the Taliban that fighting is futile and they should negotiate, the United States may find it is killing some of the very people who will be needed to make peace.”

But, are those being killed willing to work for peace, do terrorists negotiate?

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