We also saw President Obama make his secret trip to Afghanistan last Tuesday --- to spike the football for his reelection efforts. So the timing was quite interesting for reading this research paper from Bryan C. Price, "Targeting Top Terrorists: How Leadership Decapitation Contributes to Counterterrorism." Here's this from the introduction:
Late in the evening of May 1, 2011, President Barack Obama announced to the nation that Osama bin Laden was dead. Earlier that day, the president had ordered a team of elite military forces deep into Pakistan to kill the mastermind behind the September 11 terrorist attacks, which had shocked the country and the world nearly ten years before. During his speech, President Obama said that he had told his new director of central intelligence, Leon Panetta, that getting bin Laden was the number one priority in the United States’ counterterrorism strategy against al-Qaida. Upon hearing of bin Laden’s death, Americans broke out in spontaneous celebration, and pundits immediately began speculating about its symbolic and operational importance. But what does bin Laden’s death mean, if anything, for the future of al-Qaida? More broadly, what does it mean when terrorist groups experience leadership decapitation?Keep reading.
Decapitation tactics, which are designed to kill or capture the key leader or leaders of a terrorist group, feature prominently in the counterterrorism strategies of many states, including Israel and the United States. Some scholars argue that targeting the group’s leadership reduces its operational capability by eliminating its most highly skilled members and forcing the group to divert valuable time and limited resources to protect its leaders. Decapitation tactics are also intended to disrupt the terrorist group’s organizational routine and deter others from assuming power. Scholars have credited these tactics with creating intra-organizational turmoil and even organizational collapse, most notably, the demise of the Kurdistan People’s Party and the Shining Path following the arrests of their leaders. Despite questions about the legality and moral legitimacy of targeted assassinations, the United States has expanded, rather than contracted, its targeted killing program since President Obama arrived in offce. In early 2010, the U.S. government even authorized the lethal targeting of Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen living in Yemen. This unprecedented decision was fraught with constitutionality concerns about due process. Yet, five months after the bin Laden operation and amid criticism about the disregard of the United States for international sovereignty, a U.S. drone fired a Hellfire missile at al-Awlaki in a remote region inside Yemen, killing him instantly.
Domestic audiences and leadership decapitation an appealing counterterrorism tactic for a variety of reasons, but most scholars argue that it is ineffective at best and counterproductive at worst. Whereas proponents of decapitation highlight cases in which the tactic has contributed to the organizational collapse of terrorist groups, critics counter with examples in which it has increased and intensified terrorist activity. Critics argue that targeted killings are both morally and ethically wrong and warn of a backlash effect: rather than reducing the terrorist threat, leadership decapitation is likely to increase the number of willing recruits for terrorist groups to exploit, allowing these groups to grow in size and popularity. Decapitation tactics may be prominent in Israel and the United States, detractors say, but that does not mean they are necessarily effective. Israel arguably has the most liberal and robust targeted killing policy of any state, yet one scholar concludes that “no compelling evidence exists that targeted killings have reduced the terrorist threat against Israel.”
Price claims that leadership decapitation is a significant factor in the decline and mortality of terrorist organizations. It's a great piece. Particularly good is the theoretical discussion of organizational cultures (pp. 14-23) and also the summary and conclusions --- where Price indicates how the killing of Osama bin Laden is a bigger victory for U.S. counterterror policies than would be expected from existing theories of the decline and defeat of terror groups.
So, yeah, President Obama can be rightly proud to have ordered the mission at Abbottabad, although he might lay off his excessive use of the first-person singular pronoun.