Is this the best strategy in the War on Terror?

Like everyone else, we watched riveted as the Pentagon released video of the Special Operations Forces from the 1st SFOD – Delta, commonly known as Delta Force, taking down the compound of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. 

And as much as everyone complained about President Trump’s comments, the material did have a video game or Hollywood film feel to it. But rest assured it was real and many people put their lives on the line in order to conduct this very dangerous operation.

When it comes to al-Baghdadi, no one in the West will shed a tear for his disappearance off the world stage. His fighters conducted countless atrocities in Iraq and Syria.  He personally took part in the slavery of an American from “Doctors Without Borders”, who was kidnapped, kept as a sex slave and abused by him. She was later killed and ISIS tried to blame her death on a Jordanian airstrike.

Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Qurayshi has been named as the new leader of ISIS after Baghdadi and his initial successor were killed in different missions by the United States’ military forces. No one knows much about al-Qurayshi, who during his released statement mentioned that ISIS is expanding. 

Senator Ben Sase (R-NE), who is on the Senate Intelligence Committee, didn’t mince any words this week when he stated, “we killed the last murderous bastard who ran ISIS. Let’s go and get the next one.”

But this Baghdadi mission, as well as others, begs the question: is the targeting of terrorist leaders in these dangerous, and very time-consuming missions, the best strategy for combatting the war on terror? 

Patrick B. Johnston wrote an article a few years ago on the subject of International Security and he argued that the targeting of the heads of terrorist organizations is indeed a sound strategy and laid out his points for continuing to undertake it. He called the strategy “Decapitation”, meaning to cut the head off the snake.

First, campaigns are more likely to end quickly when counterinsurgents successfully target enemy leaders. Second, counterinsurgents who capture or kill insurgent leaders are significantly more likely to defeat insurgencies than those who fail to capture or kill such leaders.