Small Wars Journal

High Value Targeting and Counterinsurgency

AntoniusBlock has posted his first draft (revision underway) of High Value Targeting and Counterinsurgency at his blog Strategy and National Policy.

Here is a bit from the intro and a bit from the conclusion. Lots of good stuff in between to include a conceptual framework, a Chechnya case study, a Peru case study and a Palestine case study.

As America's first serious involvement with counterinsurgency for several decades, Iraq has become a laboratory and schoolroom for new thinking about this dangerous and complex endeavor. The way that Americans have approached that conflict reflects broader assumptions about security and armed violence. Take the bursts of optimism that accompanied the killings of Qusay and Uday Hussein in July 2003, the capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2003, and the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in June 2006. In each instance, large segments of the American public and a number of political leaders concluded that the removal of these figures would alter the trajectory of the insurgency, possibly even pave the way to victory. This was easy to understand: rather than believe that armed conflict arises from deep, sometimes even irresolvable structural or cultural causes, Americans attribute it to the nefarious action of evil people. Remove these evil people and stability and comity—the "natural" state of human affairs—returns. For this reason, "high value targeting"—the killing or capture of key insurgents—has great appeal when Americans grapple with counterinsurgency.

Yet if high value targeting is mentioned to counterinsurgency experts, many immediately retort that it does not work. In fact, they argue, it can actually be counterproductive, distracting effort and attention from the difficult, often infuriating processes of establishing security, building effective law enforcement and intelligence systems, political reform, and economic development. As is often the case, the truth lies between the extremes...

... Obtaining actionable operational and tactical intelligence is always a challenge for high value targeting. By definition, only wily and security conscious insurgents become important enough to warrant the effort. Those who are easy to kill or capture are not worth the effort. Those worth the effort are not easy to kill or capture. But an accurate strategic assessment can be even more difficult than obtaining actionable intelligence because of the complex interplay of multiple effects and because it requires prediction rather than simply collection and analysis. Since insurgency is quintessentially psychological and the insurgents themselves have a major say in determining the strategic effects of high value targeting, the best that a strategist or intelligence professional can do is assign probabilities to certain actions or patterns of actions.

To integrate high value targeting into strategy, counterinsurgents must first identify the desired outcome...

High Value Targeting and Counterinsurgency