Al-Awlaki typically had been described as an operational planner with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. But Obama said Friday that he was the leader of "external operations" for the Al Qaeda affiliate.
As such, Obama said, the U.S.-born radical cleric "took the lead" in planning attacks on Americans and called on others to take part in the "murderous agenda."
One intelligence official told The Washington Post the designation is not new and that CIA analysts have used that title for al-Awlaki for a while.
Al-Awlaki was killed in a CIA-led drone strike on his convoy in Yemen early Friday.