Decapitation strike

A decapitation strike is a military strategy aimed at removing the leadership or command and control of a hostile government or group. The strategy of shattering or defeating an enemy by eliminating its military and political leadership has long been utilized in warfare.

1. Genocide
The Katyn massacre by the Soviet Union against Polish military officers. As Polish law required every university graduate to be a reserve officer, executing the officers among the Polish POWs allowed Lavrentiy Beria to stunt Polish science, culture and leadership.
The deportation of Armenian intellectuals in 1915, considered the start of the Armenian genocide
German AB-Aktion in Poland by the Nazis during World War II

2. In nuclear warfare
In nuclear warfare theory, a decapitation strike is a pre-emptive first strike attack that aims to destabilize an opponents military and civil leadership structure in the hope that it will severely degrade or destroy its capacity for nuclear retaliation. It is essentially a subset of a counterforce strike but whereas a counterforce strike seeks to destroy weapons directly, a decapitation strike is designed to remove an enemys ability to use its weapons.
Strategies against decapitation strikes include the following:
Distributed command and control structures.
Dispersal of political leadership and military leadership in times of tension.
Delegation of ICBM/SLBM launch capability to local commanders in the event of a decapitation strike.
Distributed and diverse launch mechanisms.
A failed decapitation strike carries the risk of immediate, massive retaliation by the targeted opponent. Many countries with nuclear weapons specifically plan to prevent decapitation strikes by employing second-strike capabilities. Such countries may have mobile land-based launch, sea launch, air launch, and underground ballistic missile launch facilities so that a nuclear launch on one area of the country will not totally negate its ability to retaliate.
Other nuclear warfare doctrines explicitly exclude decapitation strikes on the basis that it is better to preserve the adversarys command and control structures so that a single authority remains that is capable of negotiating a surrender or ceasefire. Implementing fail-deadly mechanisms can be a way to deter decapitation strikes and respond to successful decapitation strikes.

3. In conventional warfare
Decapitation Strike strategy has been employed in conventional warfare.
The 2003 invasion of Iraq began with a decapitation strike against Saddam Hussein and other Iraqi military and political leaders. These air strikes failed to kill their intended targets.
The U.S. and its NATO allies have, and continue to pursue this strategy in its efforts to dismantle militant Islamic fundamentalist networks, such as Al-Qaeda and ISIL, that threaten the United States and allies.
Additionally, the term has been used to describe the assassination of a governments entire leadership group or a nations royal family.
July 17, 1918: Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and the Imperial Family were executed by a Bolshevik firing squad under the command of Yakov Yurovsky
Yemen 1948 Alwaziri coup
July 20, 1944: Claus von Stauffenberg attempted to assassinate German Fuhrer Adolf Hitler and his inner circle of advisers as part of a broader military coup detat against the Nazi government, which ultimately failed.
April 14, 1865: The assassination of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln by Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth was part of a larger plot to disrupt the presidential line of succession by also killing then-Vice President Andrew Johnson, and Secretary of State William H. Seward, at the close of the American Civil War
February 1, 1908: King Carlos I of Portugal was assassinated along with his son the Crown Prince Luis Filipe by Alfredo Luis da Costa and Manuel Buiça, both connected to the Carbonaria the Portuguese section of the Carbonari

4. In fiction
In the 2013 film White House Down terrorists capture the White House intending to kill the President of the United States. They subsequently strike a plane which also houses the Vice President of the United States
In the 2002 film The Sum of All Fears, neo-Nazi terrorists attempt to start a war between the United States and the Russian Federation by among other things detonating a nuclear device during a football game in Baltimore at which the American President is in attendance.
In the film Dr. Strangelove, Senator Buford complains that the U.S. nuclear deterrent lacks credibility. If the President were killed in a decapitation strike, retaliation would be impossible. Wing Attack Plan R is devised to close this loophole.
In the Marvel Comics universe, Hydra has the slogan "Cut off one head and two more shall take its place" thereby describing itself as an organization resistant to a decapitating strike, while pursuing the same strategy against its enemies.
The 2016 TV series Designated Survivor stars Kiefer Sutherland as Tom Kirkman, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, who becomes President after a terrorist attack kills the President, the Vice President, and all other members of the Cabinet.
In the 1994 Tom Clancy novel Debt of Honor, a Japan Airlines pilot flies a fully fueled, passenger-less Boeing 747 into the U.S. Capitol during a joint session of Congress. This is not an attack by a government, but it has the effect of removing the top tier of each branch of the United States government - most of Congress, the President, the Cabinet, the Supreme Court, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The only survivors are two men each claiming the vice presidency, and thus the presidency by succession.
In the essay The Cuban Missile Crisis: Second Holocaust, an alternate history in which the 1962 crisis developed into war, the Soviets manage to destroy Washington, D.C., and kill President John F. Kennedy, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, and most of their political and military advisors.
In the 1983 film WarGames, the master computer WOPR is programmed to interpret a sudden power loss as the result of a decapitation strike and automatically launch all weapons in retaliation.
In the made-for-cable film By Dawns Early Light, the Soviet Union launches nuclear strikes against key U.S. targets including a failed decapitation strike at Andrews Air Force Base which would presumably have been the departure point for the President and his advisors. The story continues with the suggestion of a retaliatory decapitation strike strategy, referred to as "The Grand Tour".
The character of Madame Defarge in A Tale of Two Cities personifies both the Reign of Terror and the concept of a decapitating strike through her knitting.
In the 2013 science fiction film Star Trek Into Darkness, a majority of Starfleet Commands senior officers and Admiralty are killed in a surprise attack in San Francisco by Khan Noonien Singh after being tricked into attending an emergency meeting following a bombing in London.

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