President Barack Obama gave his go-ahead and was updated as the operations proceeded.
The missions, however, are unlikely to help buoy Obama as he battles House Republicans amidst a partial government shutdown.
"I would submit to you right now most Americans remain focused on the economy. They remain focused on the government shutdown and the upcoming debt ceiling lifting or not lifting, depending on what Congress decides to do," CNN chief political correspondent Candy Crowley said.
But David Rennie of The Economist said the missions are a reminder that "even an American president who is domestically very frustrated wields extraordinary executive powers."
5. Who is next?
The operatives of the 9/11 era are largely dead or captured. And key operatives like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed -- an alleged 9/11 mastermind -- are detained at Guantanamo Bay.
Topping the list of still-wanted is Ayman al Zawahiri, the leader of al Qaeda. With a $25 million reward on his head, Zawahiri is believed to be hiding in Pakistan.
But some of the biggest targets are part of the new al Qaeda affiliates like Al-Shabaab -- including its top leader, Godane.
"By formally merging with al Qaeda and doing an attack in which Americans were targeted, this group has put itself in the sights of the United States," CNN National Security Analyst Peter Bergen said.
The United States is also hunting for other emerging terrorist leaders.
Nasser al-Wuhayshi is a one-time bin Laden aide and leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The Yemen-based group is now considered one of the most lethal.