Targeted Killings

- April 9, 2021
Is taking out terrorists beyond the battlefield a legitimate tactic?
Officials investigating the bullet-riddled car in which Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was slain in Absard, Iran, on November 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Fars News Agency)
The targeted killing of suspected terrorists and other nonstate actors, pioneered by Israel, is being utilized with growing frequency by the United States and other nations as a warfare and anti-terrorism tactic. The rise of targeted killings, often with armed drones and other precision weapons, has changed the nature of military operations, allowing states to intervene remotely in long-running conflicts. The United States killed up to 16,900 people in drone strikes between 2010 and 2020, including as many as 2,200 civilians, mainly in Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia and Afghanistan, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a British media organization.

Why are targeted killings on the rise? Who pioneered these operations and why?

What is a targeted killing? Do you believe they are legal under international law?

1900s–1940sLaws governing armed conflicts begin to emerge.
1950s–1980sAs Israel relies on targeted killing, the U.S. explores assassinations.
1990s–PresentWith international terrorism rising, governments begin to embrace the use of drones for assassinations of terrorist leaders.

Are targeted killings legal?


Abraham Bell
Professor of Law, University of San Diego.


Claire Finkelstein
Algernon Biddle Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy, University of Pennsylvania.


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