U.S. Kills Al Qaeda Leader Ayman Al-Zawahri in Drone Hit!
The United States killed al Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahri in a drone strike over the weekend, an operation that included tracking him down through his family, a senior administration official confirmed to reporters.
The strike, which was done by a CIA-controlled Air Force drone, happened at 6:18 a.m. local time on Sunday in Kabul as the al Qaeda leader stood on his balcony, an official said. A separate person familiar with the operation said it took “a few days” to confirm the death because the U.S. doesn’t “have many assets on the ground.”
Zawahri never became as well-known as his predecessor, Osama bin Laden, but his death is still a big win for the US in its fight against Islamist terrorism. This is especially true since the UN has warned that the terrorist group is becoming a bigger long-term threat than other groups like the Islamic State.
In a speech announcing the operation, President Joe Biden said he gave the final approval to kill Zawahri, who was still planning attacks against the U.S. and its allies. “Justice has been delivered, and this terrorist leader is no more,” he added. Minutes before that address, a senior administration official spoke to reporters on how Zawahri was hunted, found, and then killed.
“This year, we identified that Zawahri’s family — his wife, his daughter, and her children — relocated to a safe house in Kabul,” the official said. “We then identified Zawahri at the location in Kabul through layering multiple streams of intelligence.” The terrorist leader’s habit of standing on his balcony allowed the U.S. to observe him and confirm his identity.
The withdrawal turned into chaos, and it was one of Biden’s worst times as president. The U.S. had to evacuate more than 100,000 people trying to leave the country after Taliban militants took control of it in an incredibly short amount of time. The US has told the Taliban that they can’t let terrorist groups like al Qaeda use Afghan land. Zawahri’s presence in Kabul raises questions about ties between the Taliban and al Qaeda, which the US has told the Taliban not to do.
The Zawahri killing gives the administration some good news to trumpet ahead of a grim anniversary. It also boosts the U.S. claim that it still has what it calls “over the horizon” capability when it comes to intelligence on terrorist activity in Afghanistan, despite no longer having combat troops there.
The Senate Intelligence Committee was briefed on the strike, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told POLITICO. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the operation “an important accomplishment, adding “this strike should be a message to terrorists near and far: if you conspire to kill Americans, we will find and kill you.”
“The attack that killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri was a big success for U.S. efforts to fight terrorism. Mick Mulroy, who used to work for the Pentagon and is now retired from the CIA as a paramilitary operations officer, said, “This is the result of countless hours of intelligence gathering over many years.”
Calling the killing “a landmark operation,” former top Obama administration official Ben Rhodes told POLITICO it “also demonstrates that Biden didn’t need to keep troops in Afghanistan to maintain a counterterrorism capability.”
A South Asian official, who did not want to be named because the topic was sensitive, was shocked to hear that Zawahri was “roaming in Kabul.”
Researchers who study terrorism and other people thought for years that Zawahri was probably hiding in Pakistan, which is where bin Laden was found. Some people thought Zawahri might be somewhere in the huge city of Karachi in Pakistan.
“This [strike] will take some attention away from things like how the Afghanistan withdrawal was a disaster and hurt U.S. counterterrorism efforts,” a South Asian official said.
However, a congressional aide noted that al Qaeda is still a powerful force in Afghanistan, even without Zawahri.
“It’s great that they caught one of the hundreds of al Qaeda members in Afghanistan, but the Taliban government, which came to power with the help of the Biden administration, is hosting senior al Qaeda leaders in downtown Kabul,” the person said. “The Biden administration gives a lot of money to the same regime.”
It wasn’t clear right away who would take over as leader of the terrorist group after Zawahri.
Daniel Byman, a terrorism expert at the Brookings Institution, said in December 2020 that one of the most important questions for him as al Qaeda leader was how he would hand over power to the next leader. “For now, there is no obvious successor with Zawahri’s wide name recognition and respect in the jihadi world,” he wrote. “Any successor will also benefit from the decline of ISIS, which is much weaker and less inspiring now that it has lost the caliphate.”
At least one name has been brought up as a possible successor: Saif al-Adl, a pen name for an Egyptian man. People think that the experienced jihadist spent a lot of time in Iran, where his movements were often limited.
A Taliban spokesman named Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted on Monday that “an air strike was done on a house in the Sherpur neighborhood of Kabul city.”
Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. who now works at the Hudson Institute, said, “One question now would be whether the Taliban helped the U.S. kill Zawahri or whether the U.S. did it on its own.”