One year on from Osama Bin Laden's death: Implications for Counter Terrorism


By Katherine Anne Williams.

“The decade-long hunt for Osama Bin Laden leaves two sensible conclusions: either Pakistani officials were complicit in harbouring Osama Bin Laden, or the nations military and intelligence services were exceptionally useless in their hunt for top Al Qaeda leaders.”

This report makes clear that counter terrorism strategies will not be reduced or removed as a result of Osama Bin Laden’s death but will either remain in place or be strengthened.


Osama Bin Laden (OBL), Al Qaeda’s (AQ) leader was killed on the 1st of May last year by American Special Forces within a mansion, 60 miles north of Islamabad, Pakistan. This paper will look at the implications of the death of OBL on AQ franchises and affiliates, on the United States (US) and its allies’ next targets, on international cooperation to fight terrorism, on the US’s relationship with Pakistan, on security measures to prevent terrorist acts, on the threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), on police forces’ powers and public cooperation to fight terrorism, on strategies to counter cyber threats and on the occupation of Afghanistan by the US and its allies.

OBL’s Power Over Al Qaeda Franchises and Affiliate Groups

Military analyst, Joshua Foust, a former employee of the Defense Intelligence Agency in the US, states OBL and his closest circle in Pakistan were hardly influential to AQ franchises and affiliates. In his last few years as AQ’s leader, OBL was never concerned in the operational aspects of AQ. This perhaps means that the death of OBL, though a great success for counterterrorism, will not greatly affect AQ and its operations around the world, for example, AQ in the Arab Peninsula has been permitted to operate against the Gulf rulers without any open meddling from AQ’s inner leadership.

Anthony Cordesman from the Center for Strategic and International Studies states AQ has had ten years to attain another leader, has formed strong and international cells and superfluous networks, and has found alterative sites throughout the world. AQ is still a large threat and the US and its allies still have a long way to go in the war against terrorism.

The US and its Allies’ Next Targets

Specialist in Terrorism and National Security, John Rollins states the achievement of the US venture targeting OBL may inspire a boost of US operations on targeting key leaders of regional groups, though independence of regional affiliates can make finding groups complicated and operations to do this might need increasingly specialized knowledge, and human and intelligence assets. US Colonel John Maraia also agrees, stating US efforts should and probably will, focus more resources and time on those leaders with a more direct position in operational preparation and implementation.

Many AQ members are keen to become leader of AQ. Possible fighting for the position of leader of the organisation may advantage counterterrorism efforts. Demonstration to be the leader of AQ will necessitate that candidates engage in more cross network communication and high profile appearances which require leaders to risk revealing themselves and cooperating with people including undercover informants. Due to this, counterterrorism personnel may have a chance to capture these targets.

The Need for International Cooperation

For decades, US counterterrorist operations have been built on the foundation of liaison relationships with other nations’ police, intelligence and security forces and this will definitely continue. The bulk of the actual work of intelligence collection against terrorist targets is completed by foreign services cooperating with the US government. US foreign liaison relationships will remain vital to counterterrorism intelligence gathering and operations.

Many nations have already acknowledged that international cooperation is vital to counter terrorism. Special attention will continue to be given to states that are vulnerable to the influence of AQ. The United Kingdom’s (UK) Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Global Opportunities Fund, for example, has supported over 150 projects in the Middle East and this supports the development of accountable governments, democratic institutions and the endorsement of human rights. Without targeting the root causes of terrorism, terrorists are likely to “spring up” for the next few decades, which the US and allied forces are currently trying to prevent and will continue to do so.

The West’s Relationship with Pakistan

The decade-long hunt for OBL leaves two sensible conclusions: either Pakistani officials were complicit in harbouring OBL, or the nation’s military and intelligence services were exceptionally useless in their hunt for top AQ leaders.

The US has stated it will investigate whether Pakistan helped OBL avoid a decade-long search before he was killed. In spite of suspicions regarding Pakistan, top administration officials have stressed the requirement for close collaboration with Pakistan. A US detachment from Pakistan would probably only facilitate greater extremism in Pakistan. A continued attempt to assist in improving Pakistan’s political, financial, and security circumstances is the greatest plan.

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