Re-evaluating the Efficacy of Targeted Killing

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Zachary Cleary


The purposeful killing of select individuals is a cornerstone of modern counter-terror and insurgency doctrine. The CIA’s drone fleet strikes targets across the globe, while Israeli strikes on Hamas leadership have become so routine as to be compared to “mowing the grass” (Inbar & Shamir, 2014). Despite the ubiquity of targeted killing, the academic community is divided as to its effectiveness. This article seeks to demonstrate that, as the literature on targeted killing has matured and become more rigorous, the consensus has shifted from seeing targeted killings as an ineffective or counterproductive measure to viewing them as an effective tool. After reviewing the early arguments against targeted killing, this article assesses these claims in light of more recent research. It explores why and how targeted killings aid security forces and concludes with four policy lessons.

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