The memorandum is said to declare that in the case of a citizen, it is legally required to capture the militant if feasible — raising a question: was capturing Mr. Awlaki in fact feasible?
It is possible that officials decided last month that it was not feasible to attempt to capture him because of factors like the risk it could pose to American commandos and the diplomatic problems that could arise from putting ground forces on Yemeni soil. Still, the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan demonstrates that officials have deemed such operations feasible at times.Charlie Savage makes a good point, referencing the action against OBL in Pakistan. If officials deemed the operation against a non-American citizen in Pakistan feasible, why did they not deem a capture attempt in Yemen feasible, especially if it is true that the the secret memo legally required it? The American military has certainly captured many "enemy combatants" and, in years past, it even launched a major military campaign against a country to capture Manuel Noriega and place him on trial. Charlie Savage's question is a good one. If the U.S. was willing to insert commandos to capture/kill OBL, why was it not willing to do the same to capture an American?
Was it feasible? Did we have the capability? Taking a look at the Wikipedia page's map, we see that Pakistan allowed the use of military facilities to American forces. It's reported that only a few hundred American troops were allowed inside the country. The Wiki map also shows that more than a thousand American troops are located in neighboring Afghanistan, and more than a thousand more across the water in Bahrain.
Yemen, according to the map, has no American troops and does not allow the use of its military facilities. Like Pakistan, however, there are more than a thousand troops reportedly in neighboring Oman and more than a thousand more across the water in Africa. Additionally, Yemen has a great deal of coastal area, and American naval vessels have reportedly been operating in the area for anti-piracy actions.
American naval vessels can launch helicopters and other aircraft.
The strike carried out against the American in Yemen, was done a few hundred miles from the Gulf of Aden. The capture/kill operation in Pakistan was done a few hundred miles from Kabul.
The United States was partnered with Pakistan against OBL, though the fidelity of that partnership has been consistently questioned. The Pakistani military did not itself capture OBL. The U.S. was also partnered with Yemen against the American. The Yemenis had previously captured and released him.
The Pakistanis were not pleased with the United States following the OBL raid. The Yemenis, however, did not apparently voice any concern following the killing. Pakistan has nuclear weapons. Yemen does not.
The New York Times reported that the strike against the American was delayed until he was "on a road away from populated areas." The capture/kill raid on OBL was conducted near a Pakistani military facility in a populated city, and one Pakistani tweeted the presence of a helicopter during the operation. OBL's body was reportedly transported to a naval vessel.
It will be interesting to see how this debate continues.