The United States have been seeking out the senior ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) leadership since early 2015 and this effort has been successful. On March 24th the second most senior ISIL leader (Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli) died when his vehicle was attacked by American commandos in helicopters. The U.S. troops had been tracking Qaduli for several days waiting for an opportunity to capture him. Qaduli’s vehicle was attacked in an uninhabited area on the Syria side of the Iraq border. Qaduli and his three companions fought back and all were killed. The commandos did recover cell phones, computers and other electronics. But the American really wanted to interrogate Qaduli, who was noted as a good strategist, manager and leader. This was why he was next in line to be supreme leader of ISIL.
It takes more than UAVs and commandos to carry out these decapitation (kill the leaders) efforts. Cash rewards also help. In May 2015 the U.S. announced $20 million in rewards for information leading to the capture or killing of four senior ISIL leaders. These included Abd al Rahman Mustafa al Qaduli (a former al Qaeda-in-Iraq leader who joined ISIL in 2012), Abu Mohammed al Adnani (the official spokesman and “face” of ISIL), Tarkhan Tayumurazovich Batirashvili (a senior combat commander) and Tariq Bin al Tahar Bin al Falih al Awni al Harzi (commander of all suicide bombing operations as well as forces in northeastern Syria). Adnani was badly wounded by a missile attack in mid-January and is apparently still recuperating. The other three have all been killed. Details of how the cash rewards work are not revealed because it is widely known that those who inform on their leaders are often hunted down and killed, along with their families. That, like cash rewards (or bribes) are ancient practices that still work.
Going after senior leaders, especially those with unique skills (like organizing and training suicide bombers) has been shown to be one of the most effective tactics for crippling and destroying an Islamic terrorist organization. Decapitation tactics proved successful in Iraq before U.S. troops left in 2011 and earlier in Israel where it was developed to deal with the Palestinian terror campaign that began in 2000. The Israelis were very successful with their decapitation program, which reduced Israeli civilian terrorist deaths within five years from over 400 a year to less than ten.
Actually decapitation tactics are an ancient practice. American troops have used similar tactics many times in the past (in World War II, 1960s Vietnam, the Philippines over a century ago, and in 18th century colonial America) but tend to forget after a generation or so. Some things have to be relearned. So successful has decapitation been that in 2013 Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan openly called for supporters to help develop methods (electronic or otherwise) to deal with the American UAVs that constantly patrol terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan (Waziristan) and Afghanistan (the Pakistani border area) and constantly find and kill Islamic terrorist leaders with missiles. This has led to the deaths of hundreds of key terrorist personnel and, despite the heavy use of civilians as human shields, few civilian deaths. The Taliban are increasingly frustrated at their inability to deal with this.
For a long time the U.S. either denied these UAV missile attacks were going on or refused to comment. The impact of these attacks on terrorist operations and the morale of terrorist leadership have led to the United States now openly admitting the attacks and confirming that they would continue. They work and are a weapon unique in military history. Wars have always included attempts to gain victory, or at least an edge, by going after the enemy leaders and other key people. This has always been difficult because the enemy leaders know they are targets and take extensive precautions to protect themselves (the “royal guard”, food tasters, and all that). This no longer works and terrorist leaders are scrambling to find ways to avoid this lethal retribution for their wickedness. Islamic terrorists also use decapitation but their favored weapon is the suicide bomber.
Islamic terrorism is disrupted not destroyed by these “decapitation” tactics. The problem is that Islamic terrorism and attacks on non-Moslems are encouraged in Islamic scripture, which makes it unique among major religions. That is another problem that a growing number of Moslems are finally confronting. Meanwhile the Islamic terrorists keep killing. Most of their victims have always been Moslems but modern technology (cheap international travel and global news media) and all the oil money in the Middle East have led to some damage in the non-Moslem world. As in the past, the non-Moslems react and defend themselves. The cure is always temporary for only Moslems themselves can cure the disease.