Last month, a Pentagon official confirmed that ISIS’ Minister of Information was killed in an air strike. Earlier this year, other ISIS leaders were also killed in air strikes, including regional leader Hafid Saeez Khan and ISIS’ former number two in command, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani. Although several alleged terrorists have been killed with air strikes, ISIS has still been functioning well and terrorism in the west has not shown any signs of slowing down. So are the air strikes really stopping terrorism?
The air strikes are hurting ISIS’ oil supply, but they may also be creating unintended problems, such as helping ISIS and other terrorist organizations in recruiting more members and increasing the amount of lone wolf terrorist attacks. There are several reasons these air strikes may be leading to these unintended consequences. One reason is that many terrorist organizations recruit people by claiming that the West hates Muslims. US air strikes on Muslims certainly does not refute this assumption and could actually promote this accusation. Additionally, being killed in an air strike could be perceived as martyrdom. This perception of martyrdom could send a distorted message to individuals that terrorists are actually activists fighting against western oppression and are dying for a great cause. In effect, motivating individuals to support ISIS and other extremist groups by either going to Syria or carrying out lone wolf terrorist attacks.
There’s also nearly no way air strikes could deter terrorist behavior. Similarly to there not being any evidence that a death penalty stops crime, creating deterrence by killing terrorists doesn’t even make sense, since many modern day terrorists are willing to commit suicide. If a terrorist is willing to commit suicide, then how would an air strike deter the individual from engaging in terrorist behavior. Additionally, some terrorists believe that they will be rewarded in the afterlife for carrying out terrorist attacks. If the individual truly believes that they will be rewarded for their terrorist behavior, then threatening to kill the person would not stop the person from committing terrorist acts.
So if air strikes don’t deter terrorism, lower morale, or stop ISIS’ ability to function, then what is the point of using the extra judicial tactic of air strikes? I don’t know. Maybe the US government believes that air strikes are a good tactic in the war against terrorism. But, I’m not sure if air strikes are really that effective, or even ethical.
Read more of Wes’ articles and research about terrorism, economics, and international relations at thepoliticist.org