Compared to organisations without a leader, terrorist organisations that lose a leader have a higher chance of disappearing into oblivion
Ayman al-Zawahiri, the chief of the Al Qaeda terrorist group, was killed over the weekend in a US-led counterterror operation in Afghanistan which is said to be one of the biggest blows to the terror outfit ever since the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011.
There were rumours that Zawahiri was reportedly living in Afghanistan or Pakistan’s tribal region until US president Joe Biden announced the success of the military operation neutralising the Al Qaeda supremo. After Zawahiri’s passing, it is anticipated that Saif Al-Adel, a prominent Al Qaeda member and former Egyptian colonel who is thought to be in Iran under the Mullah regime, will take over as the organisation’s leader. As a result, according to counterterrorism specialist Charles Lister, things will get more difficult for the United States.
Since the Kashmir conflict in 1989, which curiously occurred about the same time that terrorism and extremism began to rise in the Middle East, India has also had to cope with similar problems and dangers. Most counterterrorism researchers link this rise with the post-1979 Iranian revolution led by Islamists under Khomeini.
India has been actively battling a variety of militant organisations whether they are Jaish-e-Mohammed, Jamat-ud-Dawa, Hizbul-Mujahideen, United Jihad Council, Harkat-ul-Jihad Al-Islami, etc., supported by Pakistan, or Ansar Ghazwat Al-Hind, affiliated with Al-Qaeda, IS-Khorasan Province, affiliated with ISIS, or Iran-linked Liwa Zainebiyoun. India’s national security has always been under threat from terrorism.
What if India follows suit and uses a similar tactic to get rid of the warlords and terrorist leaders who are using evil means to undermine India’s integrity?
Leadership decapitation strategy
Despite spending billions on anti-terrorist initiatives, there is still no foolproof method for eliminating terrorism. The challenge still persists.
The United States has largely succeeded in protecting its borders from terrorist strikes like 9/11. In order to carry out “targeted murders” and get rid of the worst terrorists, it implemented robust counterterrorism measures and coordinated with its regional allies. The tactic, sometimes known as “Leadership Decapitation”, has shown to be one of the most effective ones.
Former president Donald Trump successfully carried out drone strikes on General Qasim Soleimani of Iran and Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis of Iraq in January 2020. The two posed a persistent threat to American interests and were involved in large-scale massacres in both Iraq and Syria.
Compared to organisations without a leader, terrorist organisations that lose a leader have a higher death rate. These organisations are 3.6 to 6.7 times more likely to disband as groups than those that did not suffer leadership decapitation.
All three methods of leadership decapitation—killing, capturing, or capturing and killing the leader—significantly raise the mortality rate of terrorist organisations, according to a counterterrorism study from the University of Leiden.
Although the elimination of terrorist leaders may have some short-term negative consequences, it increases the mortality rates of the groups they head.
Leaders of Black September and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), who were both directly and indirectly implicated in the 1972 Munich tragedy, were targeted by Israel in Operation Wrath of God. Israel then strategically planned Operation Spring of Youth against key PLO figures in Lebanon in 1973.
Some counterterrorism specialists believe that targeted assassinations have assisted nations in lessening the impact of terrorist organisations although some miscarriages have occurred in which people, including women and children, have died. This is because the majority of terrorists live and move around in civilian areas while wearing civilian clothing. The task is challenging because they don’t wear camouflage outfits. In the event a civilian is killed, governments are subject to accusations of violating human rights.
Ignoring the backlash
As Robert Art and Louise Richardson point out in their study Democracy and Counterterrorism: Lessons from the Past, the majority of counterterrorism experts think democracies are more vulnerable to terrorism within their borders than monarchies.
When it comes to their national security, Middle Eastern nations like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt never make concessions. In July 2016, ISIS carried out attacks on Saudi Arabian public spaces, including the Prophet’s mosque in Medina. By 2017, Saudi Arabia has used brutal force to deal with the terrorist group’s financiers, sponsors, and supporters, and nobody was able to evade the security apparatus.
Unfortunately, most socialist and communist organisations in India oppose the approach of decapitating the leadership on the grounds that it violates human rights. When facts and fakery are tampered with—used to confuse the populace and disqualify the political leadership —it becomes difficult and deceptive.
Targeted killing has actually been referred to as “a crime,” “Mafia-style,” and “immoral” by left-leaning Israeli activists. However, if carried out precisely, the decapitation method was deemed “effective and just” by former Israeli deputy prime minister Ephraim Sneh.
Adhering to the fact that civilians should never be attacked and precision should be pursued, the leadership decapitation strategy has been efficient to scuttle a terror group’s performance.
India has all the capacity and might to deal with its adversaries. The question is, will India with its fastest growing economy, longest standing-army military might, and trusted alliances, be able to strike the heads of the serpents?
The author is a Saudi-based Indian national. He is Director of Milli Chronicle Media London. He holds a PG-Diploma in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI-ML) from IIIT. He did a certificate programme in Counterterrorism from the University of Leiden, Netherlands. He tweets under @ZahackTanvir. Views expressed are personal.
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