Thursday, January 28, 2010

Targeted Killings? Good or Bad

I am currently going through a virtual stack of Der Spiegel articles (virtual since I am accessing their wonderful online archive) on the German mission in Afghanistan.  The air strike on September 4th, 2009 was controversial for a variety of reasons, including the significant number of collateral damage.

However, I was struck by one of the key points of controversy--that the Colonel who ordered the strike sought to destroy the tanker trucks that could be a threat AND the insurgents near the truck.  This raised the question of whether Germany should engage in targeted killing.

The only thing I can think is: would you prefer un-targeted killing?  Random killing?  The phrasing is awkward, but the point here is that the Army officer sought to kill insurgents, and that is really the rub.  Should Germans be killing anybody in Afghanistan except in the most narrowly tailored definition of self-defense?  This has been a key point of difference between Germany and other folks operating in Afghanistan, as protecting the people of Afghanistan may mean different things to different people.  Going out and killing insurgents on your terms rather than fighting them on theirs would seem to be good military strategy, but it is not universally acceptable.

Of course, there is some confusion here, because the US drone attacks on individuals does approach assassination that is apparently banned by international law (a lawyer I am not).  But dropping bombs on a group of insurgents who are in the process of stealing fuel-laden trucks does not approach assassination as closely as drones over Pakistan, for instance.  So, again, it really comes down to whether violence is at all justified?  And yes, I am separating this from the air strike's real controversy--that there was significant collateral damage--in large part because the Germans did not have any troops near the event and were relying on an informant--violating McChrystal's intent.

Getting re-engaged into the details of this project is inspiring some posting--perhaps more to come.

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