We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. By continuing to browse this repository, you give consent for essential cookies to be used. You can read more about our Privacy and Cookie Policy.

Durham Research Online
You are in:

The wane of command: evidence on drone strikes and control within terrorist organizations

Rigterink, Anouk S. (2021) 'The wane of command: evidence on drone strikes and control within terrorist organizations.', American political science review., 115 (1). pp. 31-50.


This paper investigates how counterterrorism targeting terrorist leaders affects terrorist attacks. This effect is theoretically ambiguous and depends on whether terrorist groups are modeled as unitary actors or not. The paper exploits a natural experiment provided by strikes by Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (drones) “hitting” and “missing” terrorist leaders in Pakistan. Results suggest that terrorist groups increase the number of attacks they commit after a drone “hit” on their leader compared with after a “miss.” This increase is statistically significant for 3 out of 6 months after a hit, when it ranges between 47.7% and 70.3%. Additional analysis of heterogenous effects across groups and leaders, and the impact of drone hits on the type of attack, terrorist group infighting, and splintering, suggest that principal-agent problems—(new) terrorist leaders struggling to control and discipline their operatives—account for these results better than alternative theoretical explanations.

Item Type:Article
Full text:(AM) Accepted Manuscript
Available under License - Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.
Download PDF
Publisher Web site:
Publisher statement:This article has been published in a revised form in American political science review This version is published under a Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND. No commercial re-distribution or re-use allowed. Derivative works cannot be distributed. © The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Political Science Association.
Date accepted:31 August 2020
Date deposited:10 September 2020
Date of first online publication:20 October 2020
Date first made open access:28 September 2020

Save or Share this output

Look up in GoogleScholar