Killing terrorist leaders isn’t good enough, you have to wipe out their followers too

Amid recent speculation about the fate of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr Baghdadi, U.S. officials were quick to say they had no idea whether Baghdadi was dead or alive.

Defense Secretary James N. Mattis, nevertheless, told reporters the deaths of such extremist leaders inevitably represent substantial blows against the groups.

“To take out leaders of these kind of organizations always has an organizational impact,” Mattis said during a July 14 news conference. “It has an impact. … It always does in war.”

Killing leaders of terrorist groups has been a centerpiece of U.S. counter-terrorism strategy at least since President George W. Bush launched the “war on terror” in 2001.

The number of military strikes against terrorist leaders increased and expanded under President Obama’s administration with the killing of both senior and junior terrorist leaders in places including Pakistan, Yemen and Iraq. Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, for example, was killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan in 2011.

Analysts don’t expect the policy of targeting militant leaders to change under the Trump administration.

But many analysts also say that while removing leaders may hurt militant groups, there are numerous examples of new leadership taking charge and continuing their missions. In some instances, analysts said, killing terrorist leaders fueled even more violence.

“The prevailing wisdom has been for a long time that taking out terrorist leaders helps to destabilize their groups,” said Jenna Jordan, assistant professor of International Affairs at Georgia Tech, who is writing a book on the subject. “But it’s unlikely to diminish a large terrorist group’s activities in the long run.”

That’s why it’s a good idea to wipe out the followers as well. You can’t be too careful.

Source: LA Times

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