WILLIAM C. BANKS
On the first night of the campaign against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan in October 2001, the United States nearly had a major success. Officials believed that they had pinpointed the location of supreme leader of the Taliban, Mullah Muhammad Omar. While patrolling the roads near Kabul, an unmanned but armed CIA drone trained its crosshairs on Omar in a convoy of cars fleeing the capitol. Under the terms of an agreement, the CIA controllers did not have the authority to order a strike on the target. Likewise, the local Fifth Fleet commander in Bahrain lacked the requisite authority. Instead, following the agreement they sought approval from United States Central Command (CENTCOM) in Tampa to launch the Hellfire missile from the Predator drone positioned above Omar.
The Predator followed the convoy to a building where Omar and about one hundred guards sought cover. Some delay ensued in securing General Tommy R. Franks’ approval. One report indicated that a full-scale fighter bomber assault was requested, and that General Franks declined to approve the request on the basis of legal advice he received on the spot.1 Another report suggested that the magnitude of the target prompted General Franks to run the targeting by the White House.2 Media reports indicated that President Bush personally approved the strike, although the delay permitted time for Mullah Omar to change his location and thus disrupt the attack.3 F-18s later targeted and destroyed the building, but Omar escaped.4 Some speculated that the attack was aborted because of the possibility that others in a crowded house might be killed.
The decision to target specific individuals with lethal force after September 11 was neither unprecedented nor surprising. In appropriate cir