The targeted killing of top Taliban leaders has had little impact on the strength and size of the organisation, according to a CIA report leaked by Wikileaks.

The report, written in 2009, assessed the “high-value targeting (HVT)” programs world-wide for their impact
on insurgencies.

The report claims that HVT operations can erode insurgent effectiveness and cause fragmentation within insurgent groups as individuals struggle to fill the power vacuum left by high value assassinations.

However, it also acknowledges that the operations can increase insurgent support, radicalise an insurgent groups remaining leaders, and need to be part of a broader military strategy to be successful.

The structure of insurgent groups has a major impact on the effect of high value targeting operations, and the report says that the egalitarian tribal structure of the Taliban and the decentralised nature of al-Qaeda make such groups better able to withstand the loss of top leaders.

The report uses the British assassination programme in Northern Ireland as a positive example of a HVT programme “that led to a peace settlement”, because the military used deep knowledge from IRA defectors and spies to target specific weak spots in the group’s command and security structure.

According to Wikileaks:

“The document, which is “pro-assassination”, was completed in July 2009 and coincides with the first year of the Obama administration and Leon Panetta’s directorship of the CIA during which the United States very significantly increased its CIA assassination program at the expense of capture operations. It produces a chart for US officials to use in strategically assessing future operations and methods in HVT assassinations.”

The CIA has not commented on the leaked documents.

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