The United States killed the leader of al Qaeda, Ayman Al Zawahri in a “successful” counterterrorism operation in Afghanistan over the weekend that senior Biden administration officials say “deals a significant blow” to the terror network and degrades its ability to operate, including against the U.S. homeland, media reports stated.
The operation marks a major milestone for the U.S. Al-Zawahiri succeeded Osama bin Laden as the leader of the terror group in 2011 and helped lead the September 11, 2001, terror attacks against the U.S.
President Biden spoke to the American people to announce the strike, saying Monday: “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 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.”
Biden said U.S. intelligence officials tracked al-Zawahri to a home in downtown Kabul where he was hiding out with his family. The president approved the operation last week and it was carried out on Sunday.
Al-Zawahiri, who was 71, had been rumored to be dead but appeared in a video on the 20th anniversary of 9/11 last year. The Associated Press first reported that a U.S. operation had killed al-Zawahiri.
“Over the weekend, the United States conducted a counterterrorism operation against a significant al Qaeda target in Afghanistan,” a senior administration official said Monday, without naming Zawahiri as the target. “The operation was successful and there were no civilian casualties.”
The news was particularly notable coming so close to the one-year anniversary of the chaotic U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan. Al-Zawahiri’s killing represents a major success for the U.S. government and Biden is likely to point to it as an illustration that the U.S. does not need to be engaged in combat in order to take down threats to the homeland.
The United States government, on July 30 at 9:48 p.m. ET, and 6:18 a.m. Kabul time, undertook a “precision counterterrorism operation,” killing Al Zawahiri, who served as Usama bin Laden’s deputy during the 9/11 attacks, and as his successor in 2011, following bin Laden’s death.
A US official said that the U.S. government identified Zawahiri at a location in Kabul. “The Al Zawahiri family exercised longstanding terrorist tradecraft that we assessed was designed to prevent anyone from following them to Zawahiri,” the official explained, noting that the government identified Zawahiri’s wife, daughter and her children at a safe house in Kabul this year.
The official explained that “only a very small and select group of officials at key agencies were brought into the process and the deliberations at the early stage” and briefed on the developing intelligence.
“The president convened over the course of the last few weeks several meetings with his key advisers and cabinet members to carefully scrutinize the intelligence and evaluate the best course of action for targeting Zawahri,” the official explained, noting that Biden received updated on the developments of the targets throughout May and June.
“We are confident through our intelligence sources and methods, including multiple streams of intelligence, that we killed Zawahiri and no other individual,” the official said, noting that members of his family were present “in other parts of the safe house at the time of the strike and were purposefully not targeted and were unharmed.”