Top 7 Ways Assassination Fails USA as Policy

By Juan Cole

Wikileaks has released a government assessment of drone strikes aimed at assassinating top leaders. The document urges such strikes, but is amazingly frank about the drawbacks.

it says,

“Potential negative effects of HVT ope rations include increasing the level of insurgent support, causing a government to neglect other aspects of its counterinsurgency strategy, altering in surgent strategy or organization in ways that favor the insurgents, strengthening an armed group’s bond with the population, radicalizing an insurgent group’s remaining leaders, creating a vacuum into which more radical groups can enter, and escalating or deescalating a conflict in ways that favor the insurgents. “

Below I consider the CIA’s cautions about the drawbacks of such assassination tactics in the context of the rise of Daesh (ISIS or ISIL) in Iraq.

“Potential negative effects of HVT [high value target] operations include”:

“increasing the level of insurgent support,”

This happened with what is now Daesh (ISIS or ISIL). The US killed the leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in spring of 2006. His successor was Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, who was killed by the Iraqi army in 2010. The new leader was Ibrahim al-Samarra’i, who styled himself Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and took over 42% of Iraq’s land area. Each assassination seems to have increased the level of insurgent report among Iraqi Sunnis.

“causing a government to neglect other aspects of its counterinsurgency strategy,”

The Shiite government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq failed to reach out to Sunni Arabs to include them in the new system. The alienated people of Mosul thus allied even with Daesh against al-Maliki.

“altering in surgent strategy or organization in ways that favor the insurgents,”

The heat in Iraq on Daesh caused the fighters to go off to Syria, instead. They were able to take and hold al-Raqqah Province there, allowing them to establish a state with ordinary institutions.

“strengthening an armed group’s bond with the population,”

The USA/ Shiite leaders of Iraq scared the Sunni Arab population so badly, with its prejudice and discrimination, that it pushed them into the arms of al-Qaeda.

“radicalizing an insurgent group’s remaining leaders,”

Each al-Qaeda/ Islamic State leader has been more radical than his predecessor.

“creating a vacuum into which more radical groups can enter, and”

The US targeting of secular Iraqi opposition groups such as the 1920 Revolution Brigade and Jaysh Muhammad led the way for extreme fundamentalist Daesh to dominate that market.


Related video:

CNN: “3 senior ISIS leaders killed in U.S. strike”

Posted in Drone,Featured | 21 Responses | Print |

21 Responses

  1. Maybe a little introspection would help. The Pentagon could do a simulation that eliminated the entire general staff, accompanied by field promotions of competent majors, lt colonels, and colonels to fill the vacancies. Would the absence of self serving careerists hurt?

    • Define “competence,” maybe? Goes with “executing the mission?” And what is/are the “mission(s)?” Coming up with catchy designators like “Operation Iraqi Liberation (OIL) oops FREEDOM’N’DEMOCRACY (OIF)”, much better, or better corporate jets for the posts they hope to have? Even if they are ” competent warriors” at kicking in doors and calling in artillery and air strikes, do they know any wisdom from old Sun Tzu, or just doctrine, with its encrustations of Brass and special interests and the Apatosaurian momentum of the Imperium’s legions? Any chance those lower orders are all Constitutionalists, and Bacevich-quality perceivers of What’s So Very Wrong with the whole rail-gun hypersonic Global OmniscioPotent In(fer)operable Profit-Centric MilBabble space? Able to redirect and repurpose all those megatons of weapons and impossibly massive procurement and deployment and logistics chains that bind the present and future of us ordinary wealth-creating taxpaying people to more of the same, but bigger and dumber and costlier? When careers, and post-retirement careers, would be terribly at risk? Court-martialed for mutiny, or just cashiered?

      Not just a set of rhetorical questions. I for one would really like to know…

  2. So are the effects of “HVT targeting” highlighted here to be taken as bugs, or as features of the program as written? Gee, I wonder… And do the architects fear, even a tiny bit, that the little mice might penetrate the armor of the Empire and maybe “take out” or “neutralize” a few HVTs here in the Homeland? How much of the “security” budget goes to protecting the ass(et)s of our Brave Courageous Droning Leaders?

    At least Obama and his crowd are back to making the Caribbean’s largest island once again subject to the Monroe Doctrine, as occasionally amended and reinforced by the Marines, and hence simplifying the stages of Regime Change as practiced in places like Ukraine, and also hence safe once again for overt “American investment,” getting the Mob back into Habana, and making more “Offshore Opportunities” for the oligarchy?

    At least we won’t now have to fear the Dirty Commies doing Lateral Drilling through hundreds of miles of rock into OUR GULF OF MEXICO OIL! That’s BP’s and ExxonMobil’s job! Got the Oil Weapon safely back in Imperial hands! link to

    Gotta keep asking, what is/are the goal(s) of the Game? What’s the endpoint? OurRulers (TM) goto Lima and recursively emit a flinty, nasty little puff of methane/CO2 flatulence, making “legal” the continued combustion of the planet… Stability? Sustainability? Boooolsheeet…

  3. How about all the other ways by which the US government offends people around the world? Gore Vidal managed to write a book about this: Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace: How We Got To Be So Hated.

  4. i was id

    @SuzanneSues57 Not to mention the radicalising effects of mistaken identity and wilfully negligent targeting of families.

  5. Warfare isn’t pretty and air power can never hold territory.
    In warfare their are two principles: Is it effective? Is it proportional? I will leave Kobani out of this and focus on TTP and AQAP. Both of these groups are engaged in active warfare against the United States. AQAP has repeatedly tried to blow up airplanes over US cities. TTP repeatedly attacks coalition forces in Afghanistan. They are conducting a war against the US and their allies and they are legitimate targets. But the US is just a secondary target. They primarily attack civil and commercial institutions. If they limited themselves to government installations and banks, it would be a classical insurgency. But they do not. They attacks schools particularly those that educate females. AQAP just ran two suicide car bombs into school buses in Yemen. I don’t even know if TTP exists. It seems to be a bunch of Uzbeks and Chechens. Yet, they have made a statement. Let us win and rule or we will kill your children.

    There seems to be an aversion to precision airstrikes. An artillery barrage by the Pakistan army makes that look like a walk in the park.

    • Nice complete statement of the talking points and belief structure or at least arguments for why “we” just have to, and will, keep doing more of the effing same. Invokes the “War is Ugly” doctrine, states abstruse and value-claiming tests for “effectiveness” and “proportionality,” without demonstrating how what “we the Empire” are doing meets either one, implies “we” need “boots on the ground” to “hold territory” as if “we” have the right to just do so, being the only Superpower that can ignore “international law” and treaties and national sovereignties and tribal realities and are so skilled at playing up the latter in service to Our God Given Right To Do Whatever We Damn Well Want To Anywhere In The Global Battlespace.

      So, Thank You Dick Cheney and the Neoconlibs and those who are just sure and certain that Our Cause Is Just Or At Least Personally Profitable and Our Warriors Are Effective And Proportional: “we” are, all flag-wrapped, grim-visaged, oiled-biceps, amgdala-flaring, testosterone-and-adrenalin-spewing, “at war” that it’s said “they declared,” with some indeterminate group(s) of people located somewhere, group(s) maybe even initiated and organized and trained, ab initio, link to, but certainly encouraged and inflamed, and now seeing their own Manifest Destiny opportunities created by “our” rulers and policies, into little pinpricks of yes, horrible, but no, not as bad as long-term CIA and USAID and various NGO meddling, with all the death and disruption and destruction in favor of a very limited set of corporate interests, see Smedley Butler and many more recent participant-observer critics of “War as a Racket.” “We” must Do ‘Not Pretty,’ it’s said, because car bombs and statements and declarations on the ‘net, and “our” Ugly is better than a Pak artillery barrage. (Ever see an Arc Light bomb drop? Oops, “not effective,” “gooks” won the war, for that and a lot of other reasons of course…)

      Still waiting for Our Rulers to whip aside the Seven Veils of “National Security Classified Eyes Only,” and show us Ordinary People who pay for it all, in so many ways, how droning and NSA Panopticoning and endless “democratization” that really means “regime change to put Our Guys in charge, has actually “improved our security.” Stupid sh_t like THIS: “SECRETS OF HISTORY: The C.I.A. in Iran — A special report.; How a Plot Convulsed Iran in ’53 (and in ’79),” link to , and please read the actual background document which was drafted to “inform ongoing and future parallel types of operations,” like these, link to, and from my own little bit part, ’67-’68, in that $4 or $6 trillion attempt to sustain imperial and colonial “interests” in Indochina, this: link to, including the “Phoenix Program…”?

      Let us not be all warm and wet about the “Call of Duty” resonances in the videos and Embedded Reports of “Coalition forces” kicking in doors and triggering ambushes and IEDs so they can try to sucker 4th Gen warriors into fixed-piece battles, blasting “Taliban positions” and “Oh my God, I just killed a little kid”-isms, link to That’s just the partly visible “Not Pretty, definitely neither effective nor proportional,” violence that is one tiny nick on the dulling, grossly expensive edge of the Imperial Sword…

  6. Another point: eliminating someone that we may be able to talk to. After an assassination attempt, successful or not, the opposing leadership would likely view any such talks as a ploy to try again.

    We did need Ho Chi Minh’s cooperation to get us out of Vietnam.

    • “We did need Ho Chi Minh’s cooperation to get us out of Vietnam.”

      Ho Chi Minh died in 1969, when U.S. Armed Forces personnel strength in Vietnam reached its maximum of 543,000.

      The Treaty of Paris was signed in 1973 ending U.S. direct involvement in the conflict, and South Vietnam collapsed in April of 1975 as the U.S. evacuated its Saigon embassy.

      The only cooperation the U.S. received from the North in “getting out” was U.S. personnel at Ton Son Nhut air base in 1975 were permitted to leave without being fired on.

  7. There is an old Chinese proverb: “He who strikes the first blow admits he’s lost the argument.”

    There is another way of phrasing this: He/She who resorts to violence concedes to being of inferior intelligence.

  8. Obama’s bombing campaign in Syria and Iraq is doing to ISIS what it was designed to do. Destroy ISIS oil refineries and
    weaken them so Iraqi ground troops and Kurdish Peshmerga can take advantage and defeat them. After the latest ISIS defeat, Kurdish leader Barzani said the Peshmerga would defeat ISIS.

    I’m not aware of any assassination attempts other than the one of Baghdadi. He was fortunate to survive. I’ve read ISIS has lost hundreds of troops in Kobani because of U.S. bombs. I also read an article claiming many Europeans fighting with ISIS have become disenchanted and want to go home.

    I wasn’t aware Obama was using drones in Syria and Iraq.

    You know things are going good when the Republicans stop bad mouthing Obama’s bombing of ISIS and started attacking him on Cuba. Give it six months and we will see how ISIS is doing in Iraq. How can they possibly hope to hold their position while being attacked from the air and on land by the Peshmerga and Iraqi army troops?

    • Yep, once again we fall back on “we will see.” Regarding articles on the success of the bombing campaign maybe “authorized” by Obama but designed and doctrinizated and carried out by the same people who told us how Air Power would fix so many previous conflicts in favor of the Empire, a little context:

      Yes, some people in the Bubble are saying stuff about (cautiously) bombing oil infrastructure and how that will “starve the beast,” like link to, and link to and link to And our Talking Heads are all over this, link to . (Republicans bad-mouthing Obama on the bomb-bomb-bomb game? Really? And that “Cuba” has become the hounds’ current howl is maybe just a function of story lifetimes and playing the suckers in the News Cycle Shell Game…) But somehow there are still little seepages and work-arounds, link to and stuff like this survey, link to

      As to Daesh/ISISILIQ losing its forces to disaffection and disappointment, which article did you read? Not this one, I guess: link to Or this one either: link to

      Hordes, at least until they start to ossify, are nothing if not flexible and adaptable, and rich and frank in their naked greed and violence. Unlike our own Empire, and its “special interests” and its Force Structure and its clumsy, rigid Power Projection Doctrines, which has to spend so much effort distracting and faux-reassuring its subjects, and disavowing and denying and covering up its idiocies…

      • Informed Comment read “Kurds inflict first Major Defeat on Daesh/ISIL.” BE SURE AND WATCH THE VIDEO. I’m not falling back on anything.

        “We will crush the Islamic State.” Masoud Barzani

        We are already seeing Daesh start to crumble and lose its grip in northern Iraq. They can be flexible and adaptable, but will not be able to withstand sustained attacks from the air and with ground forces as we have just seen in Sinjar.

        • And from the same web source (here) there’s this reminder: “Daesh/ ISIL close to Taking al-Anbar Province as Tribal Levies lack Ammunition, Funding, Unity,” link to

          I’ve watched your video, now watch mine: link to Cheerlead for the Cowboys all day and all night, but in the Messopotamian Muzzle all those linear beliefs in the Virtues of Ever More Military Force seem kind of “irrationally exuberant,” maybe? And recruits keep coming to that for-them-apparently-meaningful, identity-conferring black ugly flag…

  9. Anbar province is a problem, but even if Daesh takes control will they be able to hold it if/when the Iraqi government arms Sunni tribes? What’s happening in Iraq doesn’t appear to a case of using “ever more military force” either. If Obama sends combat troops to Iraq–Anbar province I would be quite surprised, to say the least.

    Defeating this gangster horde before they screw up the whole country is the best long term strategy, IMO. Of course, there is ALWAYS the chance that our VERY hawkish politicians will escalate. I’m aware of that but letting Daesh just run wild is a prescription for disaster and a MUCH bigger war down the line.

    • “If/when” the Bagmen of Baghdad arm the tribes? Listen to what you say. The political economy there needs massive repairs, but the Shi’a rulers are all just about keeping what they got, thanks to Empire, and maybe getting a little more. All you prescribe is more military force, and whether its the 3rd Marines or 1st Cab, or our Sepoys using our weapons, it’s just more combat and predation on the ordinary people who actually do the work of “civilization” but are forced to choose up sides to “buy protection.”

      Not to worry, there’s no consequences to bloggers offering Game of RISK(TM)-quality nostrums for the cancers of militarization fronting for zombie and vampire and tapeworm “capitalism,” solidified into our Grand Battlespacian Idiocy. Take comfort that the shooting and beheading and bombing will continue. But don’t be too smug about or cocksure certain that our Rulers either know how to Defeat Daesh, or actually have that as a principal goal.

      Merry Christmas, and keep reminding those who read these comments about the manifold and manifest successes of US arms and policy, divorced of course from any questions of what the rules and goals and play of the actual Game, in all its debased and debasing complexity, actually might be. GO WARRIORS!

      • I strongly suggest you listen to the video you posted. The Iraqi soldier says they need air support “Helicopters” and complains about the bad weather excuse being used. Then he comments on the weather being clear “now.” He also says ISIS is using “tanks” while the Iraqi troops only have troop carriers.

        Watch the video and listen to the soldier’s comments.

    • p.s. Your video starts with an Iraqi troop complaining about the lack of U.S. air cover needed to stop ISIS tanks. “No air cover in the last 48 hours.” The BBC reporter emphasizes that criticism.That’s the big difference between what happened in Anbar and Mount Sinjar.

      Other than rather vague complaints about the U.S. using “ever more military force” and referring to “Cowboys,” I really don’t understand why you and others object to degrading ISIS BEFORE they turn Iraq into another Syria. Bombing ISIS in Anbar would have stopped them from advancing from 20 miles out to only six. What do you think would happen if we had not acted?

      I question the logic of your position.

      • Tactical game-playing, round XXVII: If you got an Iraqi “army,” that reportedly has all kinds of US weapons and wealth, but none of that courage and commitment to stand its ground and fight for the Shi’a Rulership, and if those brave Iraqi troops would actually use the guided antitank weapons that are so much cheaper and even more effective and proportional than flying high-cost jets from distant carriers and bases to drop and fire much more expensive and maybe less well targeted (even by Our Very Special Forces Boots On The Ground) munitions at said tanks (kindly given them Daeshers by “our” More Military Force Largesse and INcompetence and inveterate partnerships in enormous and idiotic corruption,) or if those Troops had the “sand” to do what several videos showing ISIS and Nusra and such lesser breeds doing, walking up to tanks and rolling grenades down the barrels to “cook off” the hapless tank crews, link to, or running up and placing satchel charges at the joints between turret and hull, what do YOU think would have happened?

        I can see where you may question a lot of logic…

        • Well, it wasn’t logical to post a video of Iraqi troops complaining of no air support and then attacking me for being in favor of it. You should take the time to actually listen to the videos YOU POST.

      • My next to last sentence should have read….” What do you think would have happened if we had not acted in the Mount Sinbar area?”

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