is the deliberate identification, capture or killing of senior or otherwise important enemy combatants, dubbed high-value targets
, usually by special operations forces
organizations. According to a recent study, since 1968, 40% of terrorist groups have met their end because local police and intelligence agencies arrested or killed key members.
A response to asymmetric tactics adopted by terrorists, insurgents, pirates, narcotraffickers, arms proliferators and other non-state actors, manhunting has been adopted by military organizations to reduce collateral damage that would occur during a conventional military assault.
The most visible such operations conducted today involve counterterrorist activities. Some involve government-sanctioned assassination, also known as targeted killing or extrajudicial execution. Operations to capture terrorists have drawn political and legal controversy, due to the practice of extraordinary rendition. Other military operations, such as hostage rescue or personnel recovery, employ similar tactics and techniques. The primary difference in hostage rescue or personnel recovery is that the person being rescued or recovered wants to be found; while high-value targets want to avoid being found.
The United States has use armed forces or militia to apprehend people deemed threats to national security since colonial times.
- Colonial period
- Indian Wars
- In the American Civil War, the Union and Confederate forces conducted occasional manhunting operations.
- Early 1900s
- World War II
- 1980-1999. A shift in US national security policy began to emerge in the late 20th century, as national leaders began to identify individuals as adversaries, rather than countries. This became evident in the hunts for:
- Manhunting after September 11, 2001
- Military manhunts within the United States
- Legal Issues. Manhunting is a challenging legal issue. Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Israel and the United States have labeled manhunting as "targeted killings" against "enemy combatants," thus constituting legitimate targets for military action.
Manhunting operations are not confined to American history.
- International manhunting dates to Alexander the Great's pursuit of Darius III.
- The Romans pursued Hannibal Barca after the Second Punic War.
- The Hashashim, a mystic sect of warriors, cultivated a fearsome reputation with targeted assassinations of Muslim leaders, often in Mosques or other public places.
- Feudal Japan's Ninja or Shinobi warrior sect adopted similar techniques.
- Vlad Tepes, a.k.a. Dracula, carried out his Night Attack in an attempt to kill the Ottoman leader, Mehmet II.
- The conquest of the Aztec Empire resulted from Hernan Cortes' capture of Aztec ruler Montezuma II.
- Francisco Pizarro later repeated the tactic against the Inca ruler Atahuallpa.
- World War II.
- Subsequent British SAS manhunting operations were conducted during the Malayan Emergency, against key Irish Republican Army operatives, and as part of global counterterrorism missions.
- Britain may have issued shoot-to-kill orders six months after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, under the code name Operation Kratos.
- North Korea secretly sent a 31-man detachment from its 124th Army Unit to South Korea to kill President Park Chung-hee, nearly succeeding in a 1968 raid on the Blue House.
- France deployed GIGN antiterrorist police and the French Navy to capture Somali pirates who had seized the 850-ton yacht Le Ponant. On April 11, 2008, the French forces captured six of 10 pirates as they attempted to escape with a $2 million ransom. The French operations brought publicity to the work of NATO's Combined Task Force 150. CTF 150, established shortly before the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom, conducts Maritime Security Operations (MSO) in the Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea, Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. In August 2008, CTF 150 established a Maritime Securiy Patrol Area in the Gulf of Aden to combat Somali piracy.
- Colombian Military forces conducted an air raid into Ecuador in March 1 2008, killing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) deputy Raúl Reyes along with 16 other FARC guerillas. On July 2 2008, Colombian special forces conned FARC captors into releasing hostages Ingrid Betancourt, Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and Keith Stansell, and 11 Colombian security personnel. Some hostages had been held since February 2003.
- British Special Air Service forces, operating in concert with United States Special Operations Forces, disrupted suicide bomber networks responsible for over 3000 deaths in Baghdad, Iraq. Over 3500 members of the bomb making networks were captured or killed in an 18-month period from 2007-2008. Most of the hundreds of network members killed were members of Al Qaeda in Iraq. The SAS suffered 6 killed and over 30 injured, many due to rapelling from helicopters with over 100 pounds of equipment.
may have the most advanced and experienced manhunters.
Israel has continued to employ the targeted killing of violent radical opponents. Notable operations include:
- April 1973, when Israeli commandos landed in Beirut and killed senior members of the Fatah movement including Yasir Arafat's deputy Yusuf Najjar and the Fatah spokesman Kamal Nasir.
- Israel may have been behind the 1979 explosion in Beirut that killed Ali Hassan Salameh, founder of Fatah's elite Force 17.
- In April 1988 an Israeli commando force landed in Tunis and killed the head of the (PLO) military branch Khalil al Wazir (Abu Jihad).
- In February 1992, Israeli helicopters fired on the car of Hizbullah leader Abbas Musawi, killing him and members of his entourage.
- In October 1995, following a series of suicide attacks which claimed the lives of dozens of Israelis, Mossad agents shot and killed the head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), Fathi Shaqaqi, in Malta.
- In January 1996, three months later, a booby-trapped cellular phone exploded, killing Hamas member Yahya Ayyash, also known as "The Engineer," who masterminded suicide attacks in which 50 Israelis died and 340 were wounded.
- Amal's operations officer, Hussam al Amin, was killed in a similar operation in August 1998.
- On November 9, 2000, near the West Bank town of Bethlehem, an Israeli Apache helicopter fired a laser-guided missile at the vehicle of Husayn Abayat, killing him and wounding his deputy.
- Similar operations on February 13, 2001 killed Masud Iyyad, a Force 17 officer trying to establish a Hizbullah cell in the Gaza Strip, and PIJ activist Muhammad abd al Al, who according to the IDF was responsible for terrorist acts and was on his way to carry out two major attacks.
- On July 22, 2002, a 2000-lb bomb dropped from an F-16 fighter killed Salah Shihada, the leader and founder of Hamas' military wing of Izz ad din al Qassam in Gaza.
- Israeli Defense Forces reveal that an April 14 2008 air strike by an unmanned aerial vehicle killed Ibrahim abu Alba; Palestinian sources confirm his death. A member of the military wing of the Palestinian Democratic Front responsible for operations in northern Gaza, the IDF said Alba was responsible for rocket attacks and a recent infiltration into Israel that had injured three soldiers. The IDF stated Alba was planning another attack when he was killed near Beit Hanoun.
- On April 16, a helicopter airstrike kills Mohammed Ghausain, Islamic Jihad's commander in northern Gaza.
- On December 14 2006 the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that targeted killing is a legitimate form of self-defense against terrorists, and outlined several conditions for its use. This decision, arrived at after four years of deliberation, may establish precedent for international law.
- Elyezer Shkedy, the recently retired Israeli Air Force commander, claims IAF operations only comprised 5% of targeted killings in 2003-4, while in 2007-8, IAF strikes comprised 50-70% of targeted killing operations. “Bystander fatalities” decreased from 50 of 100 Palestinians killed (1:1 ratio), to 1 in 25 (24:1 ratio). In the final months of 2007, 98 terrorists were killed with a single bystander fatality (98:1 ratio). While the IAF does not provide detailed data of these operations, B’Tselem (the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories) communications director Sarit Michaeli acknowledges improvements in IAF accuracy.
- John Cloud, "The Manhunt Goes Global," Time/CNN, October 15 2001
- Seymour Hersh, "Annals of National Security: Moving Targets: Will the counter-insurgency plan in Iraq repeat the mistakes of Vietnam?" The New Yorker, Dec 15 2003
- Steven Marks, Thomas Meer, Matthew Nilson, Manhunting: A Methodology for Finding Persons of National Interest June 2005
- George Crawford, Manhunting: Reversing the Polarity of Warfare, 2008
- Charles O'Quinn, An Invisible Scalpel: Low-Visibility Operations in the War on Terror, June 2006,
- Steven Roberts, Unilateral Man Hunting: Is The Strategic Operating Environment Structured To Allow The Department Of Defense To Conduct Unilateral Manhunting Operations, June 18 2004
- Matthew Machon, Targeted Killing as an Element of U.S. Foreign Policy in the War on Terror, March 25 2006
- John Dodson, "Man-hunting, Nexus Topography, Dark Networks and Small Worlds", Joint Information Operations Center IOSphere, Winter 2006
- Casper Weinberger "When Can We Target the Leaders?," Strategic Review (Spring 2001), p.23.
- Thomas Wingfield, "Taking Aim at Regime Elites," 22 Md. J. Int'l. L. & Trade 287.
- Elizabeth Bazan, Assassination Ban and E.O. 12333: A Brief Summary, January 4 2002
- Eben Kaplan, "Targeted Killings," Council on Foreign Relations Website,
- Gal Luft, "The Logic of Israel's Targeted Killing," Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2003
- David Kretzmer, "Targeted Killing of Suspected Terrorists: Extra-Judicial Executions or Legitimate Means of Defence?" European Journal of International Law, 2005
- Laura Blumenfeld, "In Israel, a Divisive Struggle Over Targeted Killing," The Washington Post, August 27 2006
- Mayur Patel, "Israel's Targeted Killings of Hamas Leaders," American Society of International Law Website, May 2004
- Daniel Byman, "Do Targeted Killings Work?" Foreign Affairs March/April 2006
- Angus Fay, Combating Terrorism: A Conceptual Framework for Targeting at the Operational Level, June 18 2004
- Sue Rodgers, Tracker Teams: Dodging an Elusive Enemy", Vietnam Magazine, October 2001.
- Ray Suarez, "Manhunt," Online News Hour, October 16 2002
- Lieutenant Colonel Jack Marr, U.S. Army; Major John Cushing, U.S. Army; Captain Brandon Garner, U.S. Army; and Captain Richard Thompson, U.S. Army, ''Human Terrain Mapping: A Critical First Step to Winning the COIN Fight, April 2008
- Michael A. Sheehan, Crush the Cell: How to Defeat Terrorism Without Terrorizing Ourselves, ISBN 978-0-307-39217-7, 2008
- Catherine Lotrionte, "When to Target Leaders" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Studies Association, Le Centre Sheraton Hotel, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Mar 17, 2004.
- Eben Kaplan, "Targeted Killings", Council on Foreign Relations, March 2, 2006
- Lester W. Grau, LTC (ret), "Something Old, Something New--Guerillas, Terrorists and Intelligence Analysis,"Military Review, July-August 2004
- Seth G. Jones, Martin C. Libicki, How Terrorist Groups End: Lessons for Countering al Qa'ida, RAND, ISBN 9780833044655, July 2008.
- Nils Melzer, Targeted Killing in International Law, Oxford University Press 2008, ISBN 978-0-19-953316-9