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Thursday, May 12, 2011

Osama bin Laden’s Death: Implications and Considerations


John Rollins, Coordinator
Specialist in Terrorism and National Security

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 efforts. Individuals suggesting that his death lacks great significance argue that U.S. and allied actions had eroded OBL’s ability to provide direction and support to Al Qaeda (AQ). For these analysts, OBL’s influence declined following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan to a point where prior to his death he was the figurehead of an ideological movement. This argument reasons that a shift of terrorist capability has occurred away from the core of AQ to affiliated organizations. Still others argue that OBL pursued a strategy of developing the AQ organization into an ideological movement thus making it more difficult to defeat. They contend that, even if OBL were no longer involved in the decision-making apparatus of AQ, his role as the inspirational leader of the organization was far more important than any operational advice he might offer. As such, his death may not negatively affect the actions of the ideological adherents of AQ and as a martyr he may attract and inspire a greater number of followers.

Individuals suggesting that his death is a major turning point in U.S. counterterrorism efforts contend that OBL remained an active participant in setting a direction for the strategy and operations of AQ and its affiliates. In addition to disrupting AQ’s organizational activities some believe his death may serve as a defining moment for the post 9/11 global counterterrorism campaign as current and potential terrorists, other governments, and entities that wish to threaten U.S. interests will take note of the U.S. success in achieving a long-held security goal. The death of OBL may have near and long-term implications for AQ and U.S. security strategies and policies.

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) 
  • Congressional Notification 
  • Legal Considerations 
  • National Security Considerations and Implications for the Homeland 
  • Military Considerations 
  • Implications for Pakistan and Afghanistan 
  • Implications for U.S. Security Interests and Foreign Policy Considerations 
The death of OBL is multi-faceted topic with information emerging frequently that adds perspective and context to many of the issues discussed in this report. This report is based on open-source information and will be updated as necessary.


Date of Report: May 5, 2011
Number of Pages: 26
Order Number: R41809
Price: $29.95

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