The Effectiveness of Leadership Decapitation in Combating Insurgencies

Published In: Quarterly Journal: International Security, Policy Brief, June 2012

Posted on RAND.org on June 01, 2012

by Patrick B. Johnston

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BOTTOM LINES : The Importance of Leaders: Evidence suggests that killing or capturing militant leaders (1) increases the chances of a rapid end to insurgencies; (2) enhances the probability of campaign outcomes favorable to counterinsurgents; (3) reduces the intensity of violent conflict; and (4) shrinks the number of insurgent-initiated attacks, such as armed attacks and kidnappings. MARTYRDOM EFFECTS: Despite warnings by public officials and terrorism analysts, there is little evidence that killing or capturing insurgent leaders causes blowback violence. COUNTERTERRORISM STRATEGIES: Killing or capturing militant leaders can be a useful tool, though it may be more effective when integrated into a larger counterinsurgency strategy. GROUP TYPE: Counterinsurgents are more successful in campaigns in which they decapitate the insurgent leadership than in those in which they do not, regardless of the group's aims or ideology.

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