US kills al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri in drone strike

It never achieved the household name status of its predecessor, but the killing of Al-Zawahri is nonetheless a major victory for the United States in the ongoing fight against Islamist terrorism, especially as the Nations United warn that the terrorist group surpasses its peers – like the Islamic State – as a long-term global threat.

In a statement to reporters, a senior Biden administration official said “over the weekend, the United States conducted a counterterrorism operation against a significant al-Qaeda target in Afghanistan. The operation was a success and there were no civilian casualties.

President Joe Biden is due to deliver a speech on the operation later Monday. The National Security Council declined to comment.

The announcement comes nearly a year after the United States completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan, the country it invaded in 2001 following the September 11 attacks orchestrated by bin Laden. The Taliban militant group has taken control of Afghanistan and the United States has insisted that it will not allow its soil to be used by terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda.

Colonel Joseph Buccino, spokesman for US Central Command, declined to comment on details of the strike. “We don’t have any operational information at this time,” he said.

A Pentagon spokesman said the military had not recently carried out any strikes in the area.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has been briefed on the strike, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told POLITICO. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the operation a “significant achievement,” adding, “This strike should be a message to terrorists near and far: If you are conspiring to kill Americans, we will.” find you and kill you.

Al-Zawahiri’s presence in Kabul is likely to sour relations between Washington and the Taliban, but it also bolsters the US claim that it still has what it calls “beyond the horizon” in intelligence on terrorist activities in Afghanistan, despite no longer having combat troops there.

“The attack that killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is a major success for US counterterrorism efforts. The result of countless hours of intelligence gathering over many years,” said Mick Mulroy, a former Pentagon official and retired CIA paramilitary operations officer.

Calling the killing a “historic operation,” former senior Obama administration official Ben Rhodes told POLITICO it “also demonstrates that Biden did not need to keep troops in Afghanistan to maintain a capability. in the fight against terrorism”.

A South Asian official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject, said he was shocked that Al-Zawahiri was “wandering in Kabul”.

For years, terrorism researchers and others believed that Al-Zawahiri was hiding in Pakistan – where bin Laden was found. Some observers thought Al-Zawahiri was probably somewhere in the bustling Pakistani city of Karachi.

For the Biden administration, “this [strike] will deflect a bit from issues such as how the pullout from Afghanistan was a disaster and the diminished capability of the United States on the counterterrorism front,” the South Asian official said.

Al-Zawahiri, a doctor, founded Egyptian Islamic Jihad, a militant group that merged with al-Qaeda in the late 1990s. He had been indicted for his alleged role in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.

It was not immediately clear who would succeed Al-Zawahiri as head of the terror group.

In December 2020, Brookings Institution terrorism expert Daniel Byman said one of the big questions of his leadership was how he would hand over control to his successor. “At this time, there is no obvious successor with Zawahri’s wide recognition and respect within the jihadist world,” he wrote, adding, “Any successor will also benefit from the decline of the Islamic State, which is much weaker and less inspiring now that it has lost the caliphate.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted monday that “an airstrike was carried out on a residential house in the Sherpur district of Kabul city”.

Andrew Desiderio contributed to this report.

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