During Monday night’s presidential address, US President Biden announced that an American drone struck at an urban safe house in Afghanistan, and killed Osama bin Laden’s successor Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was a key planner of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It was the end of a 21-year search for the radical Egyptian, who was more responsible than anyone, besides bin Laden, for the deadliest foreign attack on the United States in modern times.
“Now justice has been delivered and this terrorist leader is no more,” said Biden in a seven-minute nationally televised address from the White House. “We make it clear again tonight,” he added, “that no matter how long it takes, no matter where you hide, if you are a threat to our people, the United States will find you and take you out,” he added. Earlier this year, American intelligence agencies tracked al-Zawahiri down in Kabul, and then spent months determining that he was hiding out in a house in a crowded area of the Afghan capital. According to American officials, the CIA fired two Hellfire missiles a week ago, and killed al-Zawahiri on his balcony without killing anyone else such as members of his family or nearby civilians.
During a brief address delivered from a White House balcony, he pledged not to allow another sanctuary for terrorism. “We will never again, never again allow Afghanistan to become a terrorist safe haven, because he is gone and we’re going to make sure nothing else happens. It can’t be a launching pad against the United States. We’re going to see to it that won’t happen,” he said.
The Taliban condemned the operation in a statement. “It is an act against the interests of Afghanistan and the region. Repeating such actions will damage the available opportunities,” said the group. Several CIA missiles struck a house in Kabul’s Sherpur area, once home to dozens of Western embassies, at 6:18 am on Sunday, as per officials.
Following the attack, the Haqqani network, a part of the Taliban government, tried to conceal Zawahiri’s presence, and restricted access to the house, as reported by an administrator. According to the official, multiple intelligence threads confirmed that Zawahiri had been killed.
Who Was al-Zawahiri?
Known best for his grey beard and fierce scowl, 71-year-old al-Zawahiri never achieved the same global notoriety as bin Laden, but was widely considered al-Qaeda’s intellectual leader. After his conviction in 1981 for conspiracy in the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat, he later merged his organisation – the Egyptian Islamic Jihad – with bin Laden’s.
Known as the al-Qaeda’s alter ego in the Middle East, al-Zawahiri sought to rally Islamist groups into a broader jihad against Americans everywhere they were found. Some counter-terrorism experts believe that he is more responsible for the attacks on the United States than bin Laden.
It had long been assumed that al-Zawahiri resided in Pakistan. According to a US official, the fact that he was slain in Kabul is evidence of both the porous border between the two nations, and al-Qaeda’s long-standing usage of facilities, homes, buildings, and compounds throughout both countries. In contrast to Abbottabad, where bin Laden was assassinated by commandos in Pakistan, in 2011, his successor appears to have spent his final weeks in the Afghan capital.
Earlier this year, a senior official told reporters on a conference call, held under White House rules mandating anonymity, that the wife, daughter, and grandkids of al-Zawahiri had moved into a home in Kabul. According to the official, the family used tried-and-true terrorist tactics to stop anyone from following them.
The Strike’s Relevance To The Biden Administration
The strike was a significant victory for Biden, whose poor poll numbers have put his party’s prospects of winning the upcoming midterm elections in jeopardy, and led his fellow Democrats to encourage him to let someone else run in 2024. However, his predecessors did see slight political benefits from similar military victories. Trump did not significantly benefit from successful strikes that killed the leader of the Islamic State and a senior Iranian commander, and even the attack that killed Osama bin Laden only temporarily improved Obama’s standing in the polls.
Biden’s claim that the United States can still fight terrorist organisations without the significant ground force deployments that characterised the first two decades after September 11 will be strengthened by the success of the first strike since the withdrawal, without American forces actually on the ground. Al-Zawahiri kept al-Qaeda’s many worldwide franchises together even as branches in Yemen and West Africa’s Sahel area exercised increasing independence and power, according to sources. Since the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan one year ago, al-Zawahiri has been far more active in making propagatory movies for broadcast. The terrorist leader also discussed the significance of “jihad” in Kashmir, in a video that was broadcast in May.
Al-Qaeda’s dispersed branches, from Syria and West Africa to Somalia and Pakistan, benefited from local autonomy under al-Zawahiri’s direction.