US drone strike kills Ayman al-Zawahiri
WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – US President Joe Biden announced on Monday evening that a US drone strike had killed Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian medical doctor who headed the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ). Zawahiri had previously allied himself and EIJ with Osama bin Ladin and his organization, al Qaida, after 1996, when the Sudanese government expelled bin Ladin at US request, and, as a result, bin Ladin relocated to Afghanistan.
Zawahiri was killed on Sunday in the Afghan capital Kabul. The 71-year-old Egyptian had moved there, Biden explained, “to reunite with members of his immediate family.”
When Biden pulled the last US troops out of Afghanistan a year ago, ending a 20-year conflict—America’s longest war—critics charged that without troops in the country, the US could not prevent it from again becoming a haven for terrorists.
However, Biden used the assassination of Zawahiri to make the point that he had been justified in his decision the year before that the “US no longer needed thousands of boots on the ground in Afghanistan to protect America from terrorists who seek to do us harm.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken followed Biden’s brief, televised address with a statement of his own, charging that the Taliban had “grossly violated the Doha Agreement,” which was concluded between the US and the Taliban in 2020 under the Trump administration.
Blinken also complained that the Taliban had broken their “repeated assurances to the world that they would not allow Afghan territory to be used by terrorists.”
However, it is unclear how significant the presence of the 71-year-old Egyptian extremist in Kabul really was, nor how significant his death will be. As a terrorist threat, al Qaida has been eclipsed by ISIS, while it has been some years since al Qaida carried out a major attack that drew international attention.
Taliban Likely Knew Zawahiri was in Kabul
The Washington Post reported that Zawahiri was living in an exclusive area of the Afghan capital, the Shirpur neighborhood of central Kabul. “The district, long a derelict area owned by the Afghan Defense Ministry, was converted into an exclusive residential area of large houses in recent years, with senior Afghan officials and wealthy individuals owning mansions there.”
When US Navy Seals assassinated bin Ladin in 2011, it was under similar circumstances, but in Pakistan. Bin Ladin was not living in some austere cave in the mountains—but in Abbottabad, a military city, where he had been residing for the previous five years. Almost certainly, Pakistani intelligence knew bin Ladin was present in Abbottabad—if they did not actually set him up in the city.
Zawahiri was killed early Sunday morning as he stepped out on the balcony of his “safe house” in Kabul, the Post reported. Several months ago, US intelligence tracked Zawahiri to that house and then carried out extensive efforts to confirm his identity and construct a “pattern of life,” the Post said—even as it must have been a very basic pattern since “he never left” the house, as the Post also reported.
Senior administration officials were first briefed in April about the intelligence that Zawahiri was apparently residing in the Kabul location. That information was developed and confirmed in the intervening months, culminating in Sunday’s strike.
However, the impact of Zawahiri’s assassination may be limited. In May 2011, when the US killed bin Ladin, al-Qaida was already “a decimated organization,” the Post said. “Lacking bin Ladin’s loyal following, Zawahiri tried to command far-flung terrorist groups that often ignored his decrees and rejected his advice,” it continued.
“In particular,” the Post noted, “he was overshadowed by the rise of the Islamic State and its bloody dominion for several years over parts of Syria and Iraq.”