The United States announced on Monday that it had killed Ayman al-Zawahri in a drone strike in Afghanistan, ending a 21-year-old manhunt for the terrorist leader, who was instrumental in the September 29 attacks. 11, 2001, and who took command of al-Qaeda after the death of Osama bin Laden.
The killing of al-Zawahri, who was one of the world’s most wanted and feared terrorists, is seen as a major victory for the Biden administration.
But the strike also raised questions about the terror leader’s presence in Afghanistan a year after President Biden withdrew US forces from the country, paving the way for the Taliban to regain control. Here’s what we know so far about the attack, who al-Zawahri was, and the aftermath of his killing.
What do we know about the attack?
Al-Zawahri was killed by the CIA in an early morning drone strike this weekend in the Afghan capital, Kabul, US officials said. He was targeted at a house in the Sherpur area, a wealthy downtown area that once housed dozens of Western embassies and is now home to senior Taliban officials.
Mr Biden, in a nationwide address delivered from a White House balcony, said he had authorized the strike two days earlier. “Now justice has been served and this terrorist leader is no more,” he said.
The operation to kill al-Zawahri had been underway for months. US intelligence agencies located the safe house where he was hiding earlier this year, after intelligence sources learned his family had moved there. The CIA then tracked his movements until they received clearance to strike and targeted him on a balcony with two Hellfire missiles, officials said.
US officials said no one else was killed in the attack, including family members or nearby civilians. Taliban security forces have restricted access to the site of the blast and there has yet to be independent confirmation that no civilians have been killed.
Who was Ayman al-Zawahri?
Al-Zawahri, who was killed aged 71, was an Egyptian-born doctor – surgeon who became involved in a violent revolution aged 15 when he helped form a militant cell seeking to overthrow the Egyptian government.
He emerged as a master of terrorism and was widely seen as the architect of the September bombing. 11 attacks on the United States in 2001.
Many counterterrorism experts considered him the intellectual backbone of al-Qaeda. Al-Zawahri was bin Laden’s personal physician. The men became allies, pooling their resources to create an instrument of mass murder to hurt Western powers and the governments they supported. Al-Zawahri provided political direction and direction; Bin Laden provided money, prestige and charisma.
The legacy of their efforts took an uncertain turn 11 years ago after Bin Laden’s death during a raid by a US Navy SEAL team in Pakistan. Many believed that al-Qaeda could not survive his absence. But al-Zawahri picked up the slack and managed to hold the group’s disparate global franchises together, even with the rise of the Islamic State militant group and as al-Qaeda branches in Yemen and the Sahel in West Africa wielded more independence and authority, officials said.
What was he doing in Afghanistan?
The attack on al-Zawahri is the first known counter-terrorism strike in Afghanistan since Mr Biden withdrew US forces nearly a year ago, nearly 20 years after the US invaded the country to hunt Al-Qaeda.
Officials said al-Zawahri returned to Afghanistan earlier this year after US forces withdrew.
Al-Zawahri has lived in Pakistan for a long time. Its refuge in Kabul is an indication of Al-Qaeda’s continued use of facilities, houses, buildings and compounds between Afghanistan and its neighbor.
Al-Qaeda had a strong presence in the country when the Taliban last ruled it – the main reason the United States invaded in 2001, following the September 19 attacks. 11 attacks.
For much of the war, al-Qaeda fighters were widely regarded as battlefield advisers among their insurgent brethren and experts in roadside bombing and suicide bombings.
But some Taliban factions had a closer relationship with the terror organization than others – particularly the Haqqani network, whose top leaders aided bin Laden during the Soviet-Afghan war.
In his remarks on Monday, Biden said the killing of al-Zawahri validated his commitment to continue counterterrorism operations despite his decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan.
“I have made the decision that after 20 years of war, the United States no longer needs thousands of boots on the ground in Afghanistan, to protect America from terrorists who seek to harm us,” did he declare. “And I promised the American people that we would continue to conduct effective counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan and beyond. That is exactly what we have done.
Didn’t the Taliban promise to cut ties with Al-Qaeda?
An agreement between the United States and the Taliban, the Doha agreementwas signed in February 2020.
The deal promised the withdrawal of all NATO troops from Afghanistan, conditional in part on a Taliban commitment to prevent groups like al-Qaeda from using Afghanistan as a base for attacks on the West. .
Western officials hoped the deal close ties between the Taliban and international terrorist networks.
Although the Taliban have repeatedly said they are meeting the Doha terms, analysts have warned that groups such as al-Qaeda and Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or the Pakistani Taliban, have since taken refuge in Afghanistan. the Taliban takeover last year.
In June, in the United Nations report warned that al-Qaeda had found “greater freedom of action” in Afghanistan since the Taliban took power. The report noted that al-Qaeda leaders may have been living in Kabul and that a slight increase in al-Zawahri’s public statements suggested he was able to lead more effectively after the takeover.
Al-Zawahri’s presence in Kabul will only challenge the Taliban’s commitment to ending the peace accord.
How did the Afghans react to the strike?
The Taliban on Tuesday strongly condemned the drone attack, calling it a “violation of international principles and the Doha agreement”, but did not confirm or respond to the alleged killing of al-Zawahri.
“Such actions are a repeat of the failed experiments of past years and run counter to the interests of the United States, Afghanistan and the region,” senior Taliban official Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement.
The attack, in a busy area, alarmed civilians in Kabul, who reacted with anger and helplessness. Almost a year later the taliban took overtheir country is on the verge of economic collapse.
“I wish we had that power to defend our country,” said Ezatullah, a 29-year-old man from Logar province who had traveled to Kabul to receive his marriage license and whose full name is not known. not disclosed for security reasons.
“People can’t show any reaction or anger because they can’t say what they want and they have economic problems,” he said. “Everyone is busy finding a piece of bread for themselves.”
Munir, 57, who lost his job after the Taliban came to power and whose full name is also withheld, said al-Zawahri’s presence in Kabul was a clear indication that the Doha deal had been broken.
“The violation of the Doha agreement is to the detriment of the Afghan people; the Afghan people are too weak to react to attacks,” he said, adding that the Afghan people “have always been victims of foreign and national police.”
Christina Goldbaum, Yacoob Akbary and Thomas Gibbons-Neff contributed report.