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The Illegality of the Geronimo Operation

Targeted killing is defined under international law as the deliberate lethal use of force by a state or its employees against an individual who is not in the custody of civilians or poses an immediate danger. Although the term is not a technical legal term, the strategy has become a standard counterterrorism tool, especially in the US. Targeted killing has some benefits, such as eliminating a public safety danger individual like Bin Laden, but the disadvantages far outweigh the advantages. A 2016 report by the Director of National Intelligence shows that a range of 64 to 116 civilians may have been killed that year (Soherwordi & Khattak, 2022). Despite the disadvantages being clear and the law the incentive to eliminate terrorism, the targeted killing seems to more than the potential harm it could bring. Obama is famously noted to have said, none of ISIL’s leaders is safe, and we’re going to keep going after them” (Carson, 2018). This statement from Obama shows that the Geronimo operation was not an exception tactic that the administration had set to eliminate Bin Laden but a general strategy to fight terrorism, which violates international law.

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How Geronimo Operation Violated International Law

According to the retired director of national intelligence, Gen. James Clapper (Carson, 2018). However, it was evident from the onset of the operation that the US military had no intention to capture as they knew that the individuals inside the building, possibly terrorists were likely to fight back. The international law applicable when conducting such an operation is straightforward. The rules named international humanitarian law were founded in the 1940s in Switzerland and are supported by the customs laws of war and The Hague Regulations of 1907. The killings and drone attacks done in bin Laden’s compound and similar attacks should only be carried out where armed conflicts are involved. The president’s order to attack was not lawful. The only exception to this law is when the actions are taken to prevent imminent harm to life. For this case study, the attacks to kill bin Laden the two variables mentioned earlier, had not been met. Thus, the president had no legal authority to order and execute the Geronimo operation.

The laws on war are also precise and clear regarding people supposed to be attacked during conflicts. Civilians are supposed to be free when planning these attacks unless they are likely to be involved in the war in the future (Carson, 2018). President Bush, Obama, Trump, and lately Biden have initiated attacks like the Geronimo operation that have led to the loss of thousands of innocent lives. In our case study, the attack led to the death of an unknown number of persons and put more into imminent danger. Despite the raid having had support by almost 90% of Americans, many Pakistani individuals over two-thirds were against it as they were the most likely to be in danger.

The outline that President Obama through his administration officials has put forward to justify targeted killings like the one in this case study is not satisfactory. The officials say that the US going to war with Al-Qaeda is a self-defence act. The administration was unable to, however not able to explain the 2011 raid on bin Laden’s compound or any other of their attacks. In the outline, the Obama administration stated that great care is taken to ensure that international humanitarian law is followed before an attack. However, empirical evidence does not seem to agree with this.

How Geronimo Operation Put the Lives of Civilians into Danger

The number of deaths that has been lost in US targeted killings, as noted earlier, is disturbing. Between 2004 and 2011, US attacks on Pakistani have led to the loss of 2634 Pakistani civilians (Soherwordi & Khattak, 2022). That is almost as many civilians as those lost during the 9-11 attack 2996. And that is Pakistan Alone, not including lives lost in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, among other places. In search for vengeance, particularly one man leading to such a high number of casualties, cannot be justified unless it can be proved that the life of an American citizen is of more impotence than that of a Pakistani. Sadly, following his intelligence, the president fully knew this information moved on at formalizing the attack unlawfully, arguing that the attacks are conducted with precision. This operation also puts the lives of civilians in danger by showing other nations that they are free to make a targeted killing if and when they see it fit, irrespective of the law.


Terrorism poses a great danger to the lives of many individual people across the globe and should be fought as hard as possible. The Obama administration drone attack on Pakistani was a demonstration of that. However, the loss and damage caused by the Neptune spear operations are as huge as that caused by the terrorists during the 9-11 attacks. For this reason, when conducting attacks, laws should always be adhered to minimize losses. The Geronimo attack in Pakistan can only be termed a hard-on problem hard-on people solution to a problem. And although this strategy presents a better solution than the soft of problem soft on issue tactic of sitting down and doing nothing, it is not the ideal solution. A better way would have been for the president to try a method that did not put the lives of civilians into danger while still having the threat posed by Osama bin Laden minimized.


Carson, J. V. (2018). Assessing the nuances of counterterrorism programs: A country-level investigation of targeted killings. Crime & Delinquency, 65(9), 1262-1291. Web.

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Soherwordi, S., & Khattak, S. (2022). Operation Geronimo: Assassination of Osama Bin Ladin and its implications on the US-Pakistan relations, war on terror, Pakistan, and Al-Qaeda.

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