Washington, DC – Eleven months after US and allied troops left Afghanistan, the US conducted a precision counterterrorism operation in Kabul on July 31 that targeted and killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, said a Senior Administration Official.
In a televised address to the nation from the balcony off the White House Blue Room, President Biden said, “Now justice has been delivered, and this terrorist leader is no more. People around the world no longer need to fear the vicious and determined killer. The United States continues to demonstrate our resolve and our capacity to defend the American people against those who seek to do us harm. You know, we — we make it clear again tonight 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.”
In a statement, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that by hosting and sheltering Zawahiri in Kabul, the Taliban “grossly violated the Doha Agreement and repeated assurances to the world that they would not allow Afghan territory to be used by terrorists to threaten the security of other countries.” Blinken said it was a betrayal of the Afghan people and the Taliban’s “stated desire for recognition from and normalization with the international community. In the face of the Taliban’s unwillingness or inability to abide by their commitments, we will continue to support the Afghan people with robust humanitarian assistance and to advocate for the protection of their human rights, especially of women and girls.”
The Taliban issued a statement calling the strike a clear violation of the Doha Agreement and international principles. The strike was carried out on a residential house in Kabul’s diplomatic enclave, where several Taliban leaders reside. The Taliban’s spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said these actions are a “repetition of the failed experiences of the past 20 years and are against the interests of the US, Afghanistan and the region.”
Speaking to the BBC, an Afghan journalist who lives in the neighborhood where Zawahiri was killed, said they have seen non-Afghan residents in the area. “They don’t speak the local languages. We don’t know who they are. They are not westerners-like it was before.” The journalist said that the neighborhood is under the protection of the Taliban. The area used to be referred to as the green zone, and “apparently it is still the green zone for people like Zawahiri,” said the journalist. The journalist added that people are living in fear and silence, especially after the Taliban condemned the strike that killed Zawahiri.
Zawahiri was Osama bin Laden’s deputy during the 9/11 attacks and succeeded him in 2011 following bin Laden’s death during a US counterterrorism mission. Zawahiri was an active threat to US persons, interests and national security, said the Senior Administration Official. “As President Biden has consistently said, we will not allow Afghanistan to become a safe haven for terrorists who might bring harm to Americans. We met that commitment on Saturday night. And in doing so, we showed that without American forces on the ground in Afghanistan and in harm’s way, we remain able to identify and locate even the world’s most wanted terrorist and then take action to remove them from the battlefield,” said the official. Zawahiri continued to provide strategic direction to al Qaeda’s affiliate worldwide, calling for attacks on the United States. His death deals a significant blow to al Qaeda and will degrade the group’s ability to operate.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi commended President Biden for his leadership. “President Biden announced that, at his direction, the United States killed Ayman al-Zawahri: a top leader of al-Qaeda, an enemy of America and one of the masterminds behind the attacks on September 11th. The President is to be commended for his strong leadership to keep Americans safe and to deliver justice to this despicable terrorist. Under President Biden and our nation’s many devoted national security professionals, America’s counterterrorism capabilities remain unrivaled, and our nation’s resolve to hunt down terrorists who threaten our families remains ironclad.”
Poonam is a multi-media journalist, and Founder and Editor of Global Strat View. She was the Managing Editor of India America Today (IAT) for seven years, and launched its print edition in 2019 with IAT's Founder and Editor, the late Tejinder Singh.