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Do Targeted Killings Increase or Decrease Terrorism? Evaluating the Evidence and Other Considerations


The counterterrorism policy of eliminating global jihadist movement leaders through targeted killings has increased dramatically over the last decade (New America Foundation, 2016). With targeted killings in Pakistan peaking around 2010, just prior to the 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden, unmanned aerial vehicle (drone) strikes continue in countries like Yemen and Somalia. Now a main feature of the twenty-first century war on terrorism, high-profile targeted strikes receive substantial media attention, symbolizing the US commitment to punishing terrorists and preventing future attacks. As a policy, pursuing terrorist leaders aims to disrupt and decapitate group operations, decrease capabilities, and preempt planned attacks, an ostensibly sensible alternative to more intrusive counterterrorism strategies. Although the results of a recent poll indicate that most Americans are supportive of drone strikes (Pew Research Center, 2015), targeted killings remain controversial throughout the international community. Human rights groups and government watchdog organizations continue to challenge the policy, which is viewed as threatening to due process, a violation of international law, and resulting in the deaths of innocent civilians.

Publication Information

Full Citation:

Gruenewald, Jeff. 2017. "Do Targeted Killings Increase or Decrease Terrorism? Evaluating the Evidence and Other Considerations." Criminology and Public Policy (January). http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1745-9133.12275/abstract

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