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Leadership Decapitation: Strategic Targeting of Terrorist Organizations, Jenna Jordan

Reviewed by Dorle Hellmuth

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The targeting of terrorist leaders has become a popular counterterrorism instrument in the U.S. war on terrorism. This is not surprising: leadership targeting or decapitation is often considered a low-cost alternative to brute military force and ground invasions; targeted arrests and killings help avoid civilian casualties and come with a much smaller local footprint. There is only one problem: leadership decapitation often does not work. In Leadership Decapitation: Strategic Targeting of Terrorist Organizations, Jenna Jordan makes a convincing case that terrorist organizations, especially those with highly bureaucratized organizational structures, religious (especially Islamist) or separatist goals, and widespread community support, frequently remain very active, alive, and well—even after they suffer the loss of their leaders.

While the scope of Jordan’s quantitative analysis is impressive (she examines close to 1,000 terrorist leadership attacks from 1970 and 2012, with additional cases focusing on ISIS and al Qaeda from 2013 to 2016), she does not merely swamp the reader with intricate data sets; she further uses qualitative case studies of Hamas, the Shining Path, and al Qaeda to evaluate her statistical findings as well as her theory of organizational resilience. Jordan&

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