Assessing the Effectiveness of Leadership Decapitation in Counterinsurgency Campaigns


Johnston, Patrick B. 2010. “Assessing the Effectiveness of Leadership Decapitation in Counterinsurgency Campaigns.” 11th Annual Triangle Institute for Security Studies New Faces Conference. Chapel Hill, NC.
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Is killing or capturing enemy leaders an effective military tactic? Previous research on interstate war and counterterrorism has suggested that targeting enemy leaders does not work. Drawing on newly collected data on counterinsurgency campaigns, new analysis on the effectiveness of leadership decapitation is presented in this paper. The results suggest that leadership decapitation is more effective than the conventional wisdom suggests. The paper contains three significant findings. First, campaigns are more likely to end quickly when counterinsurgents successfully target enemy leaders. Second, counterinsurgents who successfully capture or kill insurgent leaders are significantly more likely to defeat insurgencies than those who fail. Third, conflict intensity is more likely to decrease following successful leadership removals than after failed attempts. The implications of these results for academic research, military operations, and policy are explored in the conclusion.
Last updated on 12/04/2012