The Legacy of Leadership Decapitation after 9/11

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Since the September 11 attacks, the U.S. has used leadership decapitation – the targeting and killing of terrorist leaders – as a pillar of its counterterrorism strategy. Through combat operations, special operations forces raids, and drone strikes, the U.S. has successfully removed al Qaeda and ISIS commanders from battlefields across the globe and has undermined the operational capacities of militant organizations that aim to strike the U.S. homeland, as well as America’s allies and interests abroad.

“In the … years post 9/11, there have been almost no terrorist attacks launched at us from al Qaeda in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan. Countless nascent al Qaeda terrorist attacks against the West were suddenly curtailed by aggressive counterterrorist actions that decimated their senior leadership. This was a huge success,” Kevin Hulbert, Cipher Brief expert and former CIA Chief of Station, wrote last year.

The Cipher Brief has become the most popular outlet for former intelligence officers; no media outlet is even a close second to The Cipher Brief in terms of the number of articles published by formers.” —Sept. 2018, Studies in Intelligence, Vol. 62

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