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Hunting Leadership Targets in Counterinsurgency and Counterterrorist Operations: Selected Perspectives and Experience

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In this monograph, the author discusses the critical topic of targeting leadership to defeat an opponent in a counterterrorism or counterinsurgency campaign. Dr. Turbiville approaches the topic from a historical perspective by discussing numerous cases in which government forces have targeted the enemys leadership. His paper culminates in a more lengthy review of Mexicos targeting of insurgent leadership in the Guerrero Province in the late 1960s, and Russias more recent targeting campaigns in Chechnya. Targeting leadership can be a difficult endeavor, and the role of intelligence is critical in any effective leadership targeting plan. Equally important is the ability to share the intelligence amongst the various interested parties through effective fusion cells and intelligence centers. This last issue is especially critical as terrorist organizations can morph into global enterprises and present a transnational threat. The relative efficacy of leadership targeting spans a broad spectrum from being highly successful in the case of Peru and the Sendero Luminoso in the 1990s to the less successful campaigns in Rhodesia in the 1970s. It is important to note that in evaluating success, one must be careful to define the goals desired. A successful operation to target an opponents leadership may be a tactical, or even operational, success, but ultimately lead to a strategic failure. Therefore, tying the tactical and operational activities to a broad, national counterinsurgency or combating-terrorism strategy is a critical component to success. Ultimately, targeting leadership must take into account the enemy organization and its motivations. If an organization is driven by a charismatic leadership, as in the case of Guzman and the Sendero Luminoso, then effectively targeting the leadership can be decisive. In other cases where ideology for a cause is more important than leadership, removing leaders will have less strategic impact.

Subject Categories:

  • Government and Political Science
  • Military Forces and Organizations
  • Unconventional Warfare

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