Biden says ‘justice has been served’ after drone strike kills al-Qaeda leader

President Biden announced on Monday that al-Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri, one of the main plotters of the Sept. 19 attack. 11 attacks, was killed in a CIA drone strike he ordered targeting the terrorist leader in Afghanistan.

One of the world’s most wanted terrorists, Zawahiri helped oversee the 2001 attacks on New York and the Pentagon, working closely with former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and led the group in over the past decade since bin Laden’s death.

The 71-year-old Egyptian was killed in a drone strike at 6:48 p.m. local time on Saturday in a residential area of ​​Kabul that fell to the Taliban a year ago almost immediately after Biden ordered the last US forces to withdraw – a development that many feared would lead to more terrorist activity in the Afghan capital.

“Justice has been served, and this terrorist leader is no more,” Biden said from the balcony of the Blue Room, as he remained isolated inside the White House residence after positive test for coronavirus in rebound case. “No matter how long it takes, no matter how long you hide, if you are a threat to our people, the United States will find you and eliminate you.”

Afghanistan, Biden continued, “can’t be a launching pad against the United States. We’re going to 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 fate 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. Over the next few months, officials watched Zawahiri on the balcony, where he was eventually beaten and killed as part of a plan designed to minimize risk to his family and civilians in the heavily populated area.

Biden, the official said, was first briefed in April, received intelligence updates in May and June and gave the final go-ahead for the attack after a meeting with top Cabinet advisers. and National Security on July 25, where all participants 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 targeting bin Laden, which lasted 40 minutes and ended in the deaths of five people, including one of bin Laden’s sons, the drone attack was carried out without any US military presence on the ground in Afghanistan — “carefully planned,” Biden said, to minimize collateral damage. “There were no civilian casualties,” I said.

Taliban officials, who the White House said had long been aware of Zawahiri’s presence in Kabul, took the terrorist’s relatives away shortly after the attack for the purpose, said the senior administration official, of hide their presence in the city.

The group’s hosting of Zawahiri, the administration official added, was a violation of the Doha Agreement between the United States and the Taliban, under which the group agreed not to cooperate with terrorist groups.

Biden, long skeptical of the military’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan, warned President Obama of the risks of bin Laden’s raid in 2011 when he was vice president.

Ending the war there after 20 years of conflict was among Biden’s top priorities in the first year, and he advance the withdrawal in the face of warnings from the Pentagon, mocking the possibility of the country’s former government falling to the Taliban weeks before it does – a foreign policy debacle that has forced the White House to rush to transport through airlifted thousands of vulnerable Afghans to safety and one from which its own popularity has yet to recover.

The successful strike on Zawahiri, Biden said, validated his own rationale for ending the US presence in Afghanistan, which was based in part on the belief that counterterrorism operations could still be carried out without a permanent presence on the ground.

“As President Biden has always 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 remarks. . “We made that commitment on Saturday night. And in doing so, we have shown that without U.S. forces on the ground in Afghanistan and at risk, we remain capable of identifying and locating even the world’s most wanted terrorists, and then take action to remove them from the battlefield.

Daniel R. DePetris, a member of Defense Priorities, a veterans group highly skeptical of the deployment of military force, came to the same conclusion. “The targeted assassination of al-Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri in a CIA drone strike in Afghanistan underscores a key fact: the United States does not need to permanently deploy military forces to defend itself. against terrorist threats,” DePetris said.

“Airstrikes or targeted raids have proven to be a more effective and less costly means of neutralizing anti-American terrorist groups. Zawahiri is the latest in a long line of senior terrorist officials, operatives and enablers 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 in a 2019 strike authorized by the president. Trump.

Biden, in his brief prime-time speech in the country, reminded the nation of Zawahiri’s pivotal role in many al-Qaeda attacks, including the 2000 bombing of the US destroyer Cole in Yemen and of course on September 1st. 11.

Addressing relatives of those killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and aboard United Flight 93 that crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, Biden expressed hope that Zawahiri’s death “will be one more closing measure”.