The proper selection and validation of enemy targets in war is a critical function for military planners and intelligence analysts. Errors can result in horrific civilian casualties and may also be strategically counterproductive.
“In extreme cases, failure to exercise due diligence in target development can result in outcomes that have negative strategic repercussions for the United States and its allies,” a newly disclosed Pentagon manual on targeting acknowledges (in bold type).
Procedures for correctly identifying and approving targets are described in the manual. See Target Development Standards, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Instruction 3370.01B, 230 pages, 6 May 2016 (Unclassified, For Official Use Only).
A target is “an entity or object that performs a function for the adversary considered for possible engagement or other action,” the manual explains.
“Targets fall into one of five target types: facility, individual, virtual, equipment, or organization.”
“Examples include POL [petroleum, oil or lubricant] or PWR [electric power] sites (facilities), the chief accountant of a terrorist group (individual), a Web site (virtual), mobile radar (equipment), or a motorized infantry brigade (organization).”
“A terrorist network is the adversary, not a target. A front company (an entity) that ships lethal aid (a function) for the terrorist network (the adversary) would be a target.”
“Collateral effects are unintentional or incidental adverse consequences of target engagement. Such effects are not unlawful so long as it is not excessive in light of the overall military advantage anticipated from the engagement.”
“While all targets are entities, not all entities in the battlespace are valid targets. To be validated as a target, the function of the entity must be tied to commander’s objectives (operationally relevant) and meet Law of War (LOW) requirements,” the manual notes.
The manual applies to the Department of Defense and the military services. It does not govern lethal operations by the Central Intelligence Agency.