The President Decides: Authorizing a Raid

  • Grades 9 to 12
  • Lesson Duration: One class period
  • Theme: Repercussions of 9/11

Essential Question: How was the decision made to authorize a raid on the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan?

Learning Goals

Students will investigate why U.S. intelligence believed Osama bin Laden was living in the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Students will consider the options presented to President Obama concerning the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.


al-Qaeda: This international Islamist extremist terrorist network is responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Al-Qaeda is responsible for multiple terrorist attacks since its founding in the 1980s by Osama bin Laden and others who were involved in the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Their aim has been to overthrow governments in the Middle East, and elsewhere in the Muslim world, which do not strictly enforce a narrow, fundamentalist version of Islam. 

Courier: Someone who moves information from one person, or location, to another.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed: This Islamist extremist was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. “Islamists” see Islam as a guiding ideology for politics and the organization of society. They believe that strict adherence to religious law should be the sole basis for a country’s law, as well as its cultural and social life. While some Muslims believe this, many do not. Islamist extremists believe violence is acceptable to achieve these ends.


1.  Show the video clip below, Compound Discovered, that explains how the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, was discovered. 


06-Compound-Discovered-AD pres

2.  After viewing the clip, ask students to read the section overview below and answer the following questions: 

  • How did US intelligence agencies locate the compound?
  • What led them to believe that someone important was living there?

In August 2010, U.S. intelligence agencies tracked a suspected al-Qaeda courier, Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti (whose real name was Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed), to a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Al-Kuwaiti lived there with his brother, also an al-Qaeda messenger, and their families. Another family with many women and children lived in the compound, too. 

For intelligence analysts, conditions at the compound strongly suggested that someone important was hiding there. Tight security guided the residents’ lives. They had no telephone or Internet connection. They burned their garbage. The surrounding walls, topped with barbed wire, were uncommonly high. A third-floor terrace in the main building had been walled off, obscuring a scenic view.

Meanwhile, a figure dubbed the Pacer took frequent walks in an outdoor, covered area. Analysts believed that the compound housed a high-value target. Could it be bin Laden?

3.  Review student answers and tell them that they will now explore the options presented to President Obama and his decision-making process.

4.  Show the video clip below, The Authorization, that provides an overview of the various options presented to President Obama.

The Authorization

07-Authorization-AD pres

5.  After viewing the clip, direct students to read The President Considers to answer the following questions:

  • What options were presented to the president?
  • Who helped the president make the decision? 
  • What risks did the president and his aides need to consider when planning the raid? 

6.  Facilitate a discussion based on student responses. Conclude the activity by asking how they would rank each option and why based on the evidence presented. What are the pros and cons of each?