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CIA report reveals setbacks in 'high value' targeted assassinations

US efforts to kill Taliban leaders in Afghanistan have had "limited" results, according to a secret CIA document. Targeted killing can backfire, provoking insurgents to regroup in a way favorable to them, analysts say.

The 2009 report published on the Wikileaks website analyzes the effects of so-called "high value targeting."

The document was created just months before US President Barak Obama ordered a "surge" in order to push back the Taliban and defeat al Qaeda.

After the report was completed, "US drone strike killing rose to an all time high," according to the WikiLeaks website.

The report, which takes into account the effectiveness of high-value targeting (HVT) programs in a series of conflicts worldwide, notes that "endemic lawlessness" in Afghanistan also constricted the effort.

"The government's limited influence outside of Kabul has impeded integration of high-value targeting (HVT) efforts," the report points out, adding that some targets hide in Pakistan which "also complicated the HVT effort."

The report also points out that HVT tactics were successful in forcing Osama bin Laden into hiding, "including his reliance on low-technology communications, his reluctance to meet with subordinates, and his contentment with leading from a sequestered distance."

HVT can be effective in strengthening government morale and public support, said the report, and weakening insurgent will.

Al Qaeda ‘quite successful at replacing leaders'

However, the CIA document also lists risks related to targeted assassinations, including "strengthening an armed group's popular support with the population, radicalizing an insurgent group's remaining leaders, and creating a vacuum into which more radical groups can enter," as well as "provoking insurgents to alter strategy or organization in ways that favor the insurgents."

Instead of always targeting the most important targets: "a pruning approach can be used to remove effective midlevel leaders," and "protect incompetent leaders or restore them to positions of authority," CIA analysts believe.

However, the report also states that the Taliban and al Qaeda are quite successful at replacing leaders, "especially at the middle level," and that "numerous al Qaeda leaders oversee external operations, minimizing the disruptive impact of individual losses, according to clandestine reports."

"The Taliban's military structure blends a top-down command system with an egalitarian Afghan tribal structure that rules by consensus, making the group more able to withstand HVT operations, according to clandestine and US military reporting," the document says.

Drone warfare outside Afghanistan

According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, there have been 354 drone strikes in Pakistan alone targeting Taliban and al Qaeda leadership since 2009, and between 2,400 and 3,888 people have been killed in the campaign.

Depending on the estimate, civilian casualties are believed to number from 416 to 959, including hundreds of children.

The Wikileaks site, which published the secret document, has 250,000 American diplomatic cables and 500,000 classified military reports concerning the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as US diplomatic relations.

dj/lw (AFP, dpa)

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