The US killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a drone strike in Afghanistan over the weekend, in the country’s first known counter-terrorism operation since it fell to the Taliban last year.
“After careful consideration of the clear and convincing evidence of Fr [Zawahiri’s] location, I authorized a precision strike that would remove him from the battlefield once and for all,” President Joe Biden said at the White House on Monday.
“My administration will continue to vigilantly monitor and address al-Qaeda threats regardless of where they come from,” he added.
Zawahiri was Osama bin Laden’s deputy and took control of him al Qaeda after US Navy SEALs killed bin Laden in a raid in 2011.
The US learned that Zawahiri’s family had moved to a safe house in Kabul and later located the Al Qaeda leader there. Senior administration officials were briefed on the intelligence in April and later informed the president of Zawahiri’s whereabouts.
On several occasions, Zawahiri was spotted on the balcony of the safe house, and was eventually punched there over the weekend. His family was elsewhere in the house when the operation happened and was not targeted or hit, a senior US administration official said.
High officials The Taliban-linked Haqqani network were aware of Zawahiri’s location in Kabul, a US administration official said. Biden approved the operation on July 25, the official added.
Zawahiri is believed to be the only person to have died in the operation. A US official said the drone strike that killed Zawahiri took place on Sunday and two Hellfire missiles were fired.
“I promised the American people that we would continue to conduct effective counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan and beyond.” We did just that,” Biden said, referring to the year since the US withdrawal from the country Afghanistan.
Zawahiri, a doctor, previously led the Egyptian Islamic Jihad before the group merged with al-Qaeda. He later rose through the ranks of the terrorist organization.
He is believed to have planned the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen that killed 17 American servicemen, and was the architect of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
The US indicted him for his alleged role in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.
The US State Department has offered a reward of up to $25 million for information leading to Zawahiri.
Democratic and Republican lawmakers praised the operation and the U.S. security officials who took part, though some Republicans said it underscored al-Qaeda’s ability to operate in Afghanistan.
“Our chaotic and deadly withdrawal from Afghanistan has opened the door for al Qaeda to operate freely inside the country to once again conduct foreign operations against the United States and our allies,” said Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Washington’s allies also praised the operation. “A tough job professionally done by our American allies,” Richard Moore, the head of Britain’s MI6, wrote on Twitter. “The culmination of a long, concerted effort since 9/11 to eliminate the threat posed by Zawahiri – the man responsible, with his toxic beliefs, for the deaths of so many over the past three decades.”
A Taliban spokesman said the operation violated international principles and the Doha agreement, the US deal with the Taliban that led to the withdrawal of US forces last year.
A senior administration official said Zawahiri’s presence in downtown Kabul violated the agreement.