The Efficacy of Killing Officials to Counter Extremism

By: Patrick Foley

In the past three days, high-ranking officials from several extremist groups have been killed by government armed forces. Unsurprisingly, the eliminations of these officials have been interpreted in the international political community as positive steps in the mission of counter-terrorism.

The internationally recognized Libyan government reported on Monday, June 15th, that an aerial U.S. counter-terrorism raid had been conducted targeting the former leader of an al-Qaeda affiliate, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, on Sunday. Belmokhtar was a leader of a North African militant group and former chief of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). He was found responsible for the 2013 attack on an Algerian gas plant that killed thirty-eight hostages, including three Americans.

Maulvi Mir Ahmad Gul Hashmi, a senior commander of the Taliban was shot and killed in Peshawar on Monday June 15, according to a Taliban spokesman. Hashmi was involved in the organization of insurgent movements in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province.

The Colombian army reported on Monday, June 15th, that it had killed Jose Amin Hernandez, known as Marquitos, a rebel commander of the country’s second largest left-wing guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army or ELN. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos acknowledged the killing by tweeting, “Congratulations to the armed forces”.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, commonly referred to as AQAP, confirmed the death of its leader, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen, in a video released Tuesday. Wuhayshi had been a former personal assistant to Osama Bin Laden and was known as the al-Qaeda network’s second in command.

These headlines could be interpreted to show that around the world, governments are improving their capacity to target and eliminate specific enemies, but to judge the efficacy of counter-terrorist programs by how accurately they can kill individual leaders is to draw the counter-terrorism discussion away from its actual purpose. If a counter-terrorism program is judged only by how well it can target and kill high-ranking officers, then the purpose of counter-terrorism becomes destroying dissidents instead of deescalating and neutralizing violence. The past deaths of officials in extremist groups have not led to an immediate disintegration of the group nor have they ever given an area long-term, sustainable peace.

This group of similar stories can serve to inform the global approach to countering extremism. If any of these organizations fall apart in the next few weeks, or if any of these regions become free from extremism, then every nation should conduct operations like the aforementioned raids. However, if these targeted eliminations prove as ineffective as similar operations have been in the past, then the international community has to stop doing the same things while expecting different results. Many national and international think tanks have looked into more peaceful methods that have been historically effective in countering extremism and they have published hundreds of articles and studies on what works and what does not, and it is time that national governments and transnational governing bodies start examining methods of countering extremism that haven’t failed dozens of times in the past decade.

One comment on “The Efficacy of Killing Officials to Counter Extremism
  1. Kudos to Patrick Foley. Drone attacks, military invasions, violence and war are forms of “State terrorism”. They create endless cycles of revenge, and fail to address the root causes of extremism. These policies create the very threats we seek to avoid and contribute to the rise of extremism. Militarizing conflict is obsolete and ineffective. It’s time to end war, and put massive war spending into peace education so people can respond to violence with SKILLS, and inoculate societies against hate, especially our OWN.

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