Unexamined Consequences: Leadership Decapitation and the Rise of ISIL

On Track

Author/s (editor/s):

Haroro J. Ingram, Craig Whiteside

Publication year:


Publication type:

Journal article

Haroro J. Ingram and Craig Whiteside, ‘Unexamined Consequences: Leadership Decapitation and the Rise of ISIL’, On Track, 21(1) 2016: 38-43.

The tactic of leadership decapitation has become a crucial component of Western counter-terrorism policy. It has been used to great effect in the wars against Al-Qaeda (AQ), its affiliates, and the socalled Islamic State (ISIL) resulting in the deaths of crucial military, spiritual, and administrative figures. Whether by drone, special forces, or airstrike, eliminating terrorist leaders can decimate command and control structures, demoralize personnel, and shatter organizational cohesion. Charismatic leaders are a special subset of organizational leaders that typically enjoy a symbolic power that can mobilize supporters towards action and bind a group together despite extraordinary internal (e.g., intraorganizational rivalries) and external (e.g., military strikes) forces. It would seem, at least on the surface, that there could be no better example of when the strategy of leadership decapitation should be deployed than when it targets charismatic leaders. Unfortunately, the inadvertent drawbacks of leadership decapitation are complex, multifaceted, and rarely understood.

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