Micah Zenko

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

Zenko covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.

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JP 3-60 Joint Targeting and U.S. Targeted Killings

by Micah Zenko
August 5, 2013

Reaper UAV A U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle assigned to the 174th Fighter Wing, New York Air National Guard, takes off on a training mission at Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield, Fort Drum, N.Y. in February 2013 (Best/Courtesy Reuters)


On February 27, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the updated version of Joint Publication 3-60 (JP 3-60): Joint Targeting. A short 154 days later, the Joint Staff provided me with a complete version of it, “without excision.” It is available in full here (PDF). For the previous 2007 version of JP 3-60 see here.

The Department of Defense defines a joint publication as: “A compilation of agreed to fundamental principles, considerations, and guidance on a particular topic…that guides the employment of a joint force toward a common objective.” Ideally, these doctrinal documents serve as a reference point for the planning and execution of military operations, including targeted killings. Military planners scour doctrine when developing contingency operation plans, refer to it explicitly in the text of those plans, and identify where plans deviate from standard doctrine and instructions. In short, JP 3-60 describes how the military intends to use force against a target, which are any “entity (person, place, or thing) considered for possible engagement or action to alter or neutralize the function it performs for the adversary.” Targets include:

(1) Facility: a geographically located, defined physical structure, group of structures, or area that provides a function that contributes to a target system’s capability.
(2) Individual(s): a person or persons who provide a function that contributes to a target system’s capability.
(3) Virtual: an entity in cyberspace that provides a function that contributes to a target system’s capability.
(4) Equipment: a device that provides a function that contributes to a target system’s capability.

In addition to providing insights into how the U.S. military conducts lethal operations, according to Gregory McNeal’s excellent paper, “Kill-Lists and Accountability”: “Field interviews I conducted—plus the existing public record—all indicate that the CIA process mirrors the military’s process, although in a more truncated fashion.” For what this might entail, see specifically Appendix D of JP 3-60.

Unfortunately, because they are covert, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) cannot acknowledge nor describe its targeting procedures in any detail, though United Nations special investigators have been requesting this information for over a decade. I have advocated transferring CIA targeted killings to the military, precisely because the CIA cannot meet even the minimum thresholds of transparency and accountability required if the United States—as the Obama administration claims is a goal—is to have any normative influence on how other countries conduct targeted killings. If those countries follow U.S. precedence, when they have armed drones, they will conduct targeted killings at a greatly accelerated rate against a wider range of targets.

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