Collapsing insurgent organizations through leadership decapitation : a comparison of targeted killing and targeted incarceration in insurgent organizations
Staeheli, Paul W.
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Killing or capturing an insurgent leader provides a means of eliminating the knowledge, charismatic power, and direction that the leader instills within the organization. Technological breakthroughs in signal intelligence (SIGINT), an increase in the collection of human intelligence (HUMINT), and the beginning of the global war on terror have brought the employment of leadership decapitation as a means of collapsing insurgent organizations back into the consciousness of western society. While the goal of government forces is to separate the insurgent leader from the organization, the techniques of killing or capturing insurgent leadership provide distinct advantages and drawbacks. This thesis asks the research question: under what conditions is the targeted killing of an enemy leader preferable to the targeted incarceration of an enemy leader during counterinsurgency operations? The analysis of four case studies provides the insight required to determine whether an insurgent organization is susceptible to collapse as a result of leadership decapitation. This thesis finds that killing versus incarcerating a terrorist leader seems to make little difference. Instead, insurgent organizations are most likely to collapse when they fail to name a successor, regardless of whether the leader is killed or captured. Through careful study of an insurgent organization's structure, military leaders can operationalize this thesis and develop a strategy to collapse an insurgent organization through leadership decapitation.
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