Shot at Sirajuddin Haqqani Passed Up Due To Rules of Engagement

BY Herschel Smith
11 years, 11 months ago

From The Los Angeles Times:

The CIA  passed up a chance last year to kill Sirajuddin Haqqani, the head of an anti-American insurgent network in Pakistan  that is closely linked to Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban, when it chose not to fire a missile at him from a Predator drone because women and children were nearby, U.S. and Pakistani officials say.

The incident was one of at least three occasions in the last six months when a militant was identified on video and a shot was available, but U.S. officials decided not to fire in order to avoid civilian casualties, said a senior Pakistani official familiar with the drone program.

[ … ]

The Pakistani official, who spoke on condition he not be named, said allowing high-value targets to escape reflected a decision by the U.S. since August to use greater caution in the drone strikes. A strike Aug. 22 destroyed a militant hide-out in North Waziristan, killing 13 members of the Afghan Taliban but also four women and three children who were living among them, according to Pakistani intelligence officials.

The U.S. officials said there had been no policy change and that there always have been occasions when the CIA decided not to fire at a target in the midst of civilians. Those officials would confirm only the Haqqani incident. But they cited two other occasions in the last year when missiles that had already been fired from drones were diverted off target to avoid killing civilians. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were discussing a classified program.

Another factor driving the change, according to a former CIA official, is that the U.S. can afford to forgo an opportunity to kill a senior militant because intelligence and technology improvements to drone operations give the CIA confidence it will get the chance for a clearer shot.

Someone is a “prophet or a son of a prophet,” because we know that we are going to get a clearer shot at one of the most powerful Taliban leaders in the AfPak region, the younger Haqqani who has taken over operational control of the Haqqani network from his father, Maulana Jalaluddin Haqqani.

Normally I do not favor the high value target program for mid-level Taliban commanders using Special Operations Forces.  I don’t believe that it’s all that effective, especially since we usually engage in a catch-and-release program for the commanders with the deadline for judicial action in Afghanistan being 96 hours.  I think there is a better way.

But I favored the targeted killing of Baitullah Mehsud, and called for it months before it occurred.  Sirajjudin Haqqani was a very significant target, and it’s remarkable that he was allowed to escape our noose, especially due to rules of engagement.  Make no mistake about it.  This comes back to rules of engagement and possible collateral damage.  But the collateral damage from leaving Sirajuddin Haqqani alive may be catastrophic for some American families, who may lose their sons from massed Taliban force attacks on U.S. outposts, or to IEDs that blow their legs off.

Take particular note just exactly who it is that we left alive, and what he has to say about massing of Taliban forces up to 200-300 fighters at a time.  Consider that in the context of the Battle of Wanat and Kamdesh.  High value targeted killings by drones or other methods is not the answer to the campaign, but it waxes important when it comes to targets such as Haqqani.  We lost that opportunity.


  1. On February 24, 2011 at 1:01 am, Herb April said:

    And we will continue to lose opportunities, and suffer terrible consequences as long as political correctness is given precedence over tactical expediency in a war that we cannot afford to lose. Perhaps in two years time we will be able to have “leadership” that understands and implements real world actions that our military can, and should, be doing right now. Until then all the true American Patriot can do is pray for, and openly support at every opportunity, those brave men and women whom our current “leadership” has placed in “can’t win due to the rules” situations worldwide.

  2. On February 24, 2011 at 10:16 am, Warbucks said:

    If we can think it, the rule is, someone else has already started building it, most likely.

    “The shot not taken” calls up the notion that a long range sniper gun would be useful in this scenario where risk of collateral damage is too great. Scary stuff, huh?

    You’ve seen the big 747 with the laser gun out front?

    Consider this alternative.

    When sighting, aiming the shot, pulling the trigger, and hitting the target exactly where the dot rests, means a kill with 0.000000001% chance of error, with zero collateral damage, does that alter the decision?

    Probably yes.

    When operating with the accuracy of a non-visual light beam all information is nearly instantaneous. If the target is illuminated at the instant the trigger’s pulled, a kill is virtually assured. Not only that, but sighting on the target can be accomplished in the non-visual light spectrum. That means there can be lots of time to visually confirm the target at the highest levels of command.

    The question is, does this violate Geneva Convention Rules? So far the results don’t wound, the target is incinerated.

    Where would it be legal to use such a weapon, if one existed?

    Protecting our elected Head of State?
    Sirajuddin Haqqani?

    And who is pulling the trigger on firing the weapon?

    A well trained tech, or, the over-seeing Col. peering over his shoulder?

  3. On February 25, 2011 at 12:18 am, Rick said:

    When we killed Baitullah Meshud we had several non-combatant casualties including one of his wives and father in law. While I hate the idea of civilian casualties this guy has to go. We are going after the Haqqanis in a big way in Afghanistan and have done a pretty decent job of going after the smaller and mid level fish in Pakistan passing up a shot like this is a mistake.

  4. On February 25, 2011 at 12:31 am, Rick said:

    I cannot find it but Herschel was kind enough to post a paper I put together on the U.S. drone strikes in the FATA in December and January of this year. There was a drum beat of attacks in the Miran Shah (Haqqani stronghold) which did as I said above a good job of killing small and medium fish during that time including a member of the Haqqani family (a cousin). Not taking the shot in this situation I hate to say it may have been the wrong decision.

    Besides Hekmatyar in the Northern Parts of the FATA the I think the Haqqanis represent the biggest threat to U.S. forces in Afghanistan. We cannot continue to miss opportunities like this. There is one problem however is that the Pakistani ISI does not want Haqqanis killed and will take measures to protect them up to an including putting them in protective custody. Nasiruddin Haqqani was detained in December of 2010 during the height of the U.S. drone strikes. The reason for this is that Pakistan considers the Haqqanis as good Taliban and a strategic asset. So we need to hit this network when we can or the Pakistanis will make it harder to do so in the future.

  5. On February 27, 2011 at 1:24 am, anan said:

    Of all the Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders, Siraj could be the most dangerous and most important. One of the reasons for this is because as Rick mentioned, Siraj is also the closest to the ISI and the Gulf establishments of all the major global Taliban and AQ leaders.

    Sirajuddin might be the greatest single threat to Europe, North America, Russia, India, and the Shiites. Siraj is also probably the most dangerous terrorist threat Iran confronts. Unfortunately, this is also his strength. Many top members of the Pakistani establishment view Siraj as their most important ally against India, the Shiites, Russians, and the West . . . which some Pakistani elites regard as threats to Pakistan.

    Another of the reasons Siraj is so dangerous is that nominally at least, TTP, TNSM, Ilyas Kashmiri, LeT seem to follow him.

    Ilyas Kashmiri heads Lashkar e Jhanvi [anti Shiite consortium closely tied with Jundullah and Sipah e Sahaba], Brigade 313, Brigade 055 [Original Osama Bin Laden Brigade]. Ilyas Kashmiri is also close to LeT.

    Sirajuddin also sits on the primary Al Qaeda council.

    Most of the most dangerous AQ and Taliban groups are linked to him. Sirajuddin in turn nominally reports to Mullah Omar. Some would say that Sirajuddin is the channel through which these extremists nominally “report” to Mullah Omar.

    Herschel, how do you think Pakistan would respond if Sirajuddin Haqqani were killed or captured?

  6. On March 5, 2011 at 12:31 am, Elysa Giles said:

    My name is Elysa, I’m doing a persuasive speach on the current ROE’s in Iraq and Afghanistan. My speach is objecting to these policies but I would love to hear from people with any experience regaurding the ROE’s currently in place.
    Any information or stories are welcome.
    Please email me at


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You are currently reading "Shot at Sirajuddin Haqqani Passed Up Due To Rules of Engagement", entry #6403 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Haqqani Network,Rules of Engagement,Sirajuddin Haqqani and was published February 24th, 2011 by Herschel Smith.

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