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Evaluating the Effectiveness of Leadership Decapitation Tactics Against Terrorist Groups


Evaluating the Effectiveness of Leadership Decapitation Tactics Against Terrorist Groups

Abstract: 

This chapter examines the effectiveness of leadership decapitation as a counterterrorism tool. Several States have put decapitation tactics—those that seek to kill or capture the leader of an organization—at the forefront of their counterterrorism efforts. However, most of the scholarly work on decapitation suggests it is ineffective at best and counterproductive at worst. Using survival analysis to measure decapitation effectiveness against an original dataset, this chapter shows that decapitation significantly increases the mortality rate (the rate at which groups end) of terrorist groups. The results indicate that the effect of decapitation on terrorist group mortality decreases with the age of the group, even to a point where decapitation may have no effect on the group’s mortality rate, which helps explain the previously perplexing mixed record of decapitation effectiveness. Additionally, this work puts forth a theoretical justification for why terrorist groups are especially susceptible to decapitation tactics and challenges the conventional wisdom regarding terrorist group durability, showing that politically relevant terrorist groups last significantly longer than previously believed.

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Full Citation: 

Price, Bryan. 2015. "Evaluating the Effectiveness of Leadership Decapitation Tactics Against Terrorist Groups." In Targeting: The Challenges of Modern Warfare, eds. Paul A. L. Ducheine, Michael N. Schmitt, and Frans P. B. Osinga. The Hague: Springer, 261-288. http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-94-6265-072-5_12

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