Improving Lethal Action: Learning and Adapting in U.S. Counterterrorism Operations
CENTER FOR NAVAL ANALYSES ALEXANDRIA VA OPERATIONS AND TACTICS ANALYSIS GROUP
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The United States uses lethal force to kill individuals it believes pose an imminent terrorist threat to its citizens and interests, as well as those of its allies and partners. This lethal force is often, though not always, successful in killing the individuals being targeted. But it can also kill civilians it did not intend to target. In addition to the human tragedy of these unintended deaths, operations that cause civilian casualties reduce the overall effectiveness of the U.S. counterterrorism CT effort by alienating local populations thereby reducing their willingness to provide intelligence and creating grievances that can lead to the creation of more terrorists failing to disrupt the threat if the action did not kill the intended individuals delegitimizing U.S. counterterrorism efforts in the eyes of directly and indirectly affected foreign populations and creating political difficulties with our allies and partners. Given the real potential of negative outcomes from the use of lethal force to undermine U.S. counterterrorism efforts and objectives, it would seem prudent for the U.S. government to have in place an effective operations analysis framework and lessons-learned process to ensure that it is learning and adapting its counterterrorism operations for maximum success. Yet, at least publically, this appears to not be the case. The lack of such a process is compounded by the fact that both the conduct and oversight of these operations are divided among different organizations, making cohesive learning even more difficult. As such, the present report seeks to address this deficiency by presenting an analytic framework and lessons-learned process that the U.S. government could and should use to continually and comprehensively improve the effectiveness of its lethal force operations and reduce the likelihood of civilian casualties in the future.
- Government and Political Science
- Unconventional Warfare