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

President Biden announced on Monday that al-Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri, a key conspirator of the September events. 11 attacks, was killed in a CIA drone strike that he ordered aimed at a terrorist leader in Afghanistan.

One of the most wanted terrorists in the world, Zawahiri helped lead the 2001 attacks on New York and the Pentagon, working closely with former al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, and led the group during the last decade after bin Laden’s death.

A 71-year-old Egyptian was killed in a drone strike at 6:48 p.m. local time Saturday in a residential area in Kabul that was overrun by the Taliban a year ago almost immediately after Biden ordered the last U.S. force to withdraw — a development many feared this will lead to increased terrorist activity in the capital of Afghanistan.

“Justice has been served and this terrorist leader is no more,” Biden said from the balcony of the Blue Room, remaining in seclusion at the White House residence after positive test result for coronavirus in case of relapse. “No matter how long it takes, no matter how long you stay in hiding, if you are a threat to our people, the United States will find you and remove you.”

Afghanistan, Biden continued, “cannot be a launch pad against the United States. We’ll make sure that doesn’t happen.”

A decade after the Navy SEALs killed bin Laden during a daring raid on its heavily fortified compound on the outskirts of Abbottabad, Pakistan, the whereabouts of Zawahiri remained a mystery.

But US intelligence officials tracked Zawahiri and his family to a safe house in downtown Kabul, where they moved earlier this year, a senior administration official said. Over the next several months, Zawahiri was watched by officials on a balcony, where he was eventually shot down and killed in a plan designed to minimize the risk to his family and civilians in a densely populated area.

Biden, the official said, was first briefed in April, received intelligence updates throughout May and June, and gave final clearance for the attack after meeting with the top cabinet and national security advisers on July 25, in which all participants expressed support for the mission. .

Five days later, a drone carried out an attack, firing two Hellfire missiles at Zawahiri on a balcony, killing him and one of him. Unlike the operation against bin Laden, which lasted 40 minutes and ended in the deaths of five people, including one of bin Laden’s sons, the drone strike was carried out without any US military presence in Afghanistan – “carefully planned,” Biden said. . minimize collateral damage. “There are no civilian casualties,” he said.

Taliban officials, who the White House said had long known about Zawahiri’s presence in Kabul, took away the terrorist’s relatives shortly after the strike to hide their presence in the city, according to a senior administration official.

The administration official added that the group’s harboring of Zawahiri was a violation doha agreement between the United States and the Taliban, according to which the group agreed not to cooperate with terrorist groups.

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

Ending the war there after 20 years of conflict was one of Biden’s top priorities in the first year, and he moving forward with a drawdown in the face of Pentagon warnings, scoffing at the possibility that the country’s former government would fall to the Taliban just weeks before it happened — a foreign policy fiasco that forced the White House to urgently airlift thousands of vulnerable Afghans to safety and one from whom it its own popularity has yet to recover.

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

“As President Biden has repeatedly stated, we will not allow Afghanistan to become a safe haven for terrorists who can harm Americans,” a senior administration official told reporters ahead of Biden’s speech. “We made this commitment on Saturday night. And in doing so, we have shown that without US troops in Afghanistan and in danger, we can still identify and locate even the most wanted terrorists in the world, and then take action to remove them from the battlefield.”

Daniel R. DePetrice of Defense Priorities, a veterans’ group that is highly skeptical about deploying a military force, came to the same conclusion. “The targeted assassination of al-Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri in a CIA drone strike in Afghanistan highlights an important fact: the US does not need to permanently deploy military forces to defend against terrorist threats,” DePetris said.

“Precise airstrikes or raids have proven to be a more effective and less costly way to neutralize anti-American terrorist groups. Zawahiri is the latest in a long list of high-profile terrorist leaders, operatives and proxies 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 the strike. 2019, authorized by President Trump.

Biden, in a brief prime-time address to the country, reminded the nation of Zawahiri’s central role in numerous al-Qaeda attacks, including the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen and, of course, the September 2000 attack. eleven.

Speaking to relatives of those killed in the attacks at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and aboard United Flight 93 that crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, Biden expressed hope that Zawahiri’s death “would be another lockdown measure.”