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Osama Bin Laden’s Death: Implications and Considerations
John Rollins, Coordinator
Specialist in Terrorism and National Security
May 5, 2011
CRS Report for Congress
Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress
The May 1, 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden (OBL) by U.S. forces in Pakistan has led to a range
of views about near- and long-term security and foreign policy implications for the United States.
Experts have a range of views about the killing of OBL. Some consider his death to be a largely
symbolic event, while others believe it marks a significant achievement in U.S. counterterrorism
The degree to which OBL’s death will affect AQ and how the U.S. responds to this event may
shape the future of many U.S. national security activities. Implications and possible
considerations for Congress related to the U.S. killing of OBL in Pakistan are addressed in this
report. As applicable, questions related to the incident and U.S. policy implications are also
offered. They address:
Implications for AQ (core, global affiliates, and unaffiliated adherents)
National Security Considerations and Implications for the Homeland
Implications for Pakistan and Afghanistan
Implications for U.S. Security Interests and Foreign Policy Considerations
The chairmen of the House and Senate intelligence committees have stated that they were briefed on OBL’s whereabouts during the past few months including, according to Representative Mike Rogers, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, some details regarding the Abbottabad compound. The Senate Majority Leader, Senator Harry Reid, has also indicated that he had been briefed on the plans to confirm OBL’s location and take action. Chariman Rogers indicated that the entire “Gang of Eight” had been briefed on the plans although not all were briefed at the same time. The Gang of Eight refers to the eight Members of Congress (the Speaker, House Minority Leader, the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders, and the chairmen and ranking members of the two intelligence committees) who, by statute, must be advised of Presidential Findings of covert actions (along with other members of the congressional leadership as may be included by the President).2 A finding is an official determination by the President that a specific covert action is in the national interest.3 A covert action is an activity to influence political, economic, or military conditions abroad where the role of the U.S. will not be apparent or acknowledged publicly.4 In a PBS News Hour interview on May 3, CIA Director Leon Panetta stated, “this was what’s called a ‘Title 50’ operation, which is a covert operation, and it comes directly from the President of the United States who made the decision to conduct this operation in a covert way.” He added that,
consistent with Title 50, he commanded the mission but it was carried out by Vice Admiral
William McRaven, the commander of the Joint Special Operations Command.
The death of OBL appears to have little, if any, immediate consequence for the legal framework
governing the conflict with Al Qaeda (AQ) and its affiliates. Shortly after the attacks of
September 11, 2001, Congress passed the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF, P.L. 107-
40), which authorized the President:
to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he
determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on
September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any
future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations
By conferring authority “to use all necessary and appropriate force” against entities involved in
the 9/11 attacks, the AUMF is understood to not only authorize the use of force against such
groups, but also to permit other fundamental incidents to the waging of war, including the
detention of captured enemy belligerents to prevent their return to hostilities.6 Pursuant to this
authority, the United States has engaged in military operations against AQ, the Taliban, and
associated forces located in Afghanistan and other locations, and it has detained belligerents
captured in these operations at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and other