President Biden announced Monday that al-Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri, a key conspirator in the 9/11 attacks, was killed in a CIA drone strike he ordered that targeted the terrorist leader in Afghanistan.
One of the world’s most wanted terrorists, Zawahiri helped oversee the attacks on New York and the Pentagon in 2001, worked closely with former al-Qaeda boss Osama bin Laden, and had led the group for the past decade since bin Laden’s death.
The 71-year-old Egyptian was killed at 6:48 p.m. local time on Saturday in a drone strike in a residential area in Kabul a year ago almost immediately after Biden ordered the last US forces to withdraw, which fell to the Taliban – a development many of which have fallen to feared they would lead to further terrorist activity in the Afghan capital.
“Justice has been brought about, and this terrorist leader is no more,” Biden said from the Blue Room balcony while remaining reclusive in the White House residence after testing positive for the coronavirus in a rebound case. “No matter how long it takes, no matter how long you go into hiding, if you pose a threat to our people, the United States will find you and take you out.”
Afghanistan, Biden continued, “cannot be a springboard against the United States. We will make sure that doesn’t happen.”
A decade after Navy SEALs killed Bin Laden in a daring raid on his heavily fortified compound on the outskirts of Abbottabad, Pakistan, Zawahiri’s whereabouts had remained a mystery.
But US intelligence officials, a senior administration official said, tracked Zawahiri and his family to a safe house in downtown Kabul, where they moved earlier this year. For the next few months, officials watched Zawahiri on the balcony, where he was eventually beaten and killed to minimize risk to his family and civilians in the densely populated area.
Biden, the official said, was first briefed in April, received updates on the intelligence community in May and June, and gave final approval for the government after a meeting with top cabinet and national security advisers on July 25 that was attended by all participants Attack expressed support for the mission.
Five days later, a drone carried out the attack, firing two Hellfire missiles at Zawahiri on the balcony, killing him and him alone. Unlike the operation against bin Laden, which lasted 40 minutes and ended in five people killed, including one of bin Laden’s sons, the drone strike was carried out without a US military presence on the ground in Afghanistan — “carefully planned,” Biden said. minimize collateral damage. “There were no civilian casualties,” he said.
Taliban officials, who the White House said had long known of Zawahiri’s presence in Kabul, kidnapped the terrorist’s relatives shortly after the attack to hide their presence in the city, the senior administration official said.
The group’s harboring of Zawahiri, the government official added, is in violation of the US-Taliban Doha Accords, in which the group pledged not to cooperate with terrorist groups.
Biden, who has long been skeptical about the military’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan, famously warned President Obama about the risks of the 2011 ambush on bin Laden while he was serving as vice president.
Ending the war there after 20 years of conflict was among Biden’s top priorities in the first year, and he pushed the disengagement in the face of warnings from the Pentagon and scoffed at the potential that the country’s former government could fall to the Taliban in weeks before it happened — a foreign policy debacle that forced the White House to airlift thousands of vulnerable Afghans to safety, and one from which his own popularity has yet to recover.
The successful attack on Zawahiri, Biden said, validated his own rationale for ending the US presence in Afghanistan, which was based in part on a belief that counterterrorism operations could still be conducted without a permanent presence on the ground.
“As President Biden has consistently said, we will not allow Afghanistan to become a safe haven for terrorists to harm Americans,” a senior administration official told reporters ahead of Biden’s comments. “We fulfilled that commitment on Saturday night. And in doing so, we have shown that without American forces on the ground, we can remain in Afghanistan and at risk to identify and locate even the world’s most wanted terrorist and then take action to remove him from the battlefield.”
Daniel R. Depetris, a fellow at Defense Priorities, a veterans group highly skeptical about the use of military force, drew the same conclusion. “The targeted killing of al-Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri in a CIA drone strike in Afghanistan underscores a crucial fact: the US does not need to deploy a permanent force to defend against terrorist threats,” Depetris said.
“Targeted airstrikes or raids have proven to be a more efficient and less costly way to neutralize anti-US terrorist groups. Zawahiri is the latest in a long list of senior terrorist leaders, operatives and facilitators to be removed from the battlefield, including Osama bin Laden and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,” he continued, referring to the former Islamic State leader who was killed became a strike authorized by President Trump in 2019.
Biden, in his brief prime-time address to the country, reminded the nation of Zawahiri’s central role in numerous al-Qaeda attacks, including the 2000 bombing of US destroyer Cole in Yemen and, of course, 9/11.
Speaking to family members of those involved in the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and aboard United Flight 93, in Shanksville, Pa.
https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2022-08-01/operation-killed-al-qaida-leader-al-zawahri Biden declares ‘justice delivered’ after drone strike kills Al Qaeda leader