The recent demise of al Qaeda leaders can be misleading. It certainly helps to win any war by killing off the enemy leadership. However, rarely can enough of wartime leaders be removed to win by this means alone. Generally, the rank and file must be defeated as well. Germany after World War I did not think of itself as having been defeated. This has been the case numerous times throughout history. It frequently is part of the cause of the next war. It is easy to believe that by our killing of these three important leaders, we have delivered a strategic blow to our enemies. In the sense that the enemy is temporarily disrupted, this is true. However, this is a shortsighted view.
Even good leadership can be replaced, although if attrition is high enough, quality will become a problem. Our enemies are not losing enough to cause this drop in quality. Seeing as the major strength of an irregular force is de-centralized, leadership is more local. The guys being hit are not part of these operations except in a general sense. To put these ‘local’ guys ‘in the bag’ would mean getting past their defenses which would most likely entail far more casualties overall, on both sides. This is not occurring today and will certainly decrease as the U.S. winds down active operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. To see that our enemy leadership is anything more than temporarily disrupted is a shortsighted and tactical view. The loss of these leaders do hurt our enemies in the short term, but I find it very difficult to believe that major disruptions in operations will be the result, even over the next few weeks and into next year. This makes the victories tactical ones, not strategic.