Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Special Reports

The Takhar attack: Targeted killings and the parallel worlds of US intelligence and Afghanistan

Kate Clark 2 min

The targeted killing of Osama Bin Laden has given a boost to those in the US who believe this is also an effective strategy to defeat – or at least degrade – the Taleban in Afghanistan. This new AAN thematic report, by senior analyst Kate Clark, warns against this strategy, stressing that the legality of targeted killings depends on the accuracy of the intelligence which drives them.

This latest AAN thematic report gives a detailed account of the intelligence failings which led US Special Forces to kill a former Taleban commander called Zabet Amanullah, who had laid down his arms in 2001. ISAF however claimed the attack killed the Taleban shadow deputy governor of Takhar who they alleged was also a member of the IMU, one Muhammad Amin. Although the evidence to the contrary is overwhelming, the military still maintain that the two were one and the same, and that they killed the right person.

The report is unique in its scope and detail. The author has been able to interview survivors, witnesses, police, senior Afghan officials – and, crucially, also senior officers in the Special Forces unit which carried out the attack. Even the Taleban commander who was believed to have died in the attack was located and interviewed in Pakistan. This makes the Takhar attack a highly significant case study.

One of the main findings of the report is how dependency on signals intelligence, especially the monitoring of phone usage to build up a picture of insurgent networks, can lead to civilian deaths and the possibility of grave violations of the laws of war – in particular when this is acted on in the virtual absence of human intelligence.

The research has uncovered serious discrepancies that raise systemic concerns over the intelligence that drives targeted killings. It has also uncovered two serious legal concerns that would benefit from clarification from US military lawyers: whether a person’s proximity to a target identified for killing on the JPEL is sufficient to change his status from default civilian to assumed combatant; and whether the bar for a targeted person to become hors de combat – and therefore protected from attack – has been quietly raised.

The full report can be downloaded here

The executive summary can be downloaded here

AAN Thematic Report 05/2011

Date of release: 10 May 2011

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