How the death of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri could affect the Taliban in Afghanistan

At that time, early on Sunday morning, two American Hellfire missiles crashed into the balcony of a house in the center of Kabul. killed by Ayman ZawahiriThe 71-year-old al-Qaeda leader has become increasingly irrelevant to the organization he once helped grow into one of the most powerful in the world. dangerous jihadist groups.

For your role as chief attack architect in sept. On November 11, 2001, Washington placed a $25 million bounty on his head. He persisted in a frustratingly long hunt that, after 21 years of false leads and misses, targeted a house in the Shirpur district, one of the most prestigious neighborhoods in the Afghan capital about a mile from the former US embassy compound.

President Biden said that Zawahiri’s killing brought justice to “a vicious and determined killer.” Analysts, however, say his death represents little more than a symbolic blow to al-Qaeda, which has changed a lot since he helped organize the strike that killed 2,977 people – the deadliest foreign attack on American soil. . The greatest repercussions of Zawahiri’s demise may be in Afghanistan, which he has drawn into a devastating war with the United States and which may now suffer again amid Western fears of al-Qaeda taking root and shutting down the country. ties with the ruling Taliban.

“We should not underestimate the element of fairness, but Zawahiri [at his time of death] was not the strong striker he once was,” said Talla Abdulrazak, a researcher at the Institute of Strategy and Security at the University of Exeter. “He was a figurehead, but his influence was very limited.”

Much of this was due to a relentless two-decade US campaign to bring down al-Qaeda and hunt down the leaders of the terrorist network. It succeeded getting Osama bin LadenZawahiri’s friend and predecessor at the helm of al-Qaeda, who was killed in May 2011 when a group of Navy SEALs stormed his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

But it also triggered a decentralization that saw al-Qaeda’s core leadership cede control to more active affiliates, such as its Yemeni branch, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula; Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb operating in the Sahel region; and Somali Shabab.

Although the so-called emirs or commanders of these groups swore allegiance to Zawahiri, it was not clear what tactical or strategic contribution he made to their operations. And his influence as a mastermind of jihad further waned when he failed to rein in the leaders of other former affiliates, including Abu Bakr Baghdadi, whose Islamic State group waged a brutal campaign that established a so-called caliphate over a third of Syria and Iraq. and temporarily eclipse al-Qaeda.

Unlike bin Laden, a charismatic speaker whose video performances inspired the group’s followers around the world, Zawahiri instead often came across as a ponderous, boring uncle, engaging in hours-long sermons that did little to endear him to a new generation of jihadists who had grown up in an age of branding and social media. MASS MEDIA.

“Many thought he was already dead. Strategically and operationally, he was no longer as important to al-Qaeda,” said Ashley Jackson, co-director of the Center for the Study of Armed Groups. She added that al-Qaeda has become more focused on winning local conflicts of its affiliates rather than attacking the United States.

The assassination of one of America’s top adversaries gives Biden a much-needed boost ahead of the midterm elections, but also raises renewed concerns about his administration’s decision to pull out of Afghanistan last year, effectively allowing the Taliban to take over the country. The fact that Zawahiri was killed in Kabul was another troubling sign of Washington’s inability to purge al-Qaeda from Afghanistan, even after almost 20 years of occupation.

Al-Qaeda “enjoyed greater freedom in Afghanistan under Taliban rule” after the US withdrawal, according to a monitoring team report presented to the UN Security Council in July. However, al-Qaeda was not seen as an immediate international threat from its safe haven in Afghanistan, the report says, because the group lacked “external operational capabilities and is currently unwilling to cause embarrassment or embarrassment to the Taliban in an international arena.” Meanwhile, Zawahiri’s apparent increase in comfort and ability to communicate “coincided with the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan and the consolidation of power of key al-Qaeda allies within their de facto administration.”

Lower belt Biden’s decision to leave was Doha Agreement 2020, which Taliban leaders signed with the Trump administration, which stipulated that the Taliban would not host or cooperate with al-Qaeda or any other group that threatens the United States or its allies, or allow them to launch attacks from Afghan territory. Biden also insisted at the time that the US would be able to conduct “over-the-horizon” operations (in other words, drone strikes) to deal with any terrorist threat in Afghanistan — a promise he said was fulfilled on Monday with Operation Zawahiri.

“When I ended our military mission in Afghanistan almost a year ago, I made the decision that after 20 years of war, the United States no longer needed thousands of boots on the ground in Afghanistan to protect America from terrorists who seek to harm us. ” he said.

“And I promised the American people that we will continue to conduct effective counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan and beyond. We did just that.”

But a more difficult question is how much the Taliban are tied to Zawahiri and what that means for the group’s efforts to gain international legitimacy and restore billions of dollars of badly needed Western aid. According to the UN, the Afghan economy has collapsed since the US withdrawal due to sanctions, frozen reserves, COVID-19, and now the war in Ukraine, forcing millions of people to winter without enough food.

That the increasingly isolated Taliban were aware of his presence in the Afghan capital is beyond doubt: A senior administration official said members of the Haqqani network, which has a particularly close relationship with al-Qaeda and is an important part of the Taliban government, evacuated Zawahiri relatives from the Shirpur house shortly after the strike, in an attempt to hide their presence. The official added that the deployment of Zawahiri by the Taliban is a violation of the Doha agreement.

Meanwhile, the Taliban said the US attack violated the Doha agreement.

“Such actions are a repeat of the bad experiences of the past 20 years and are contrary to the interests of the United States, Afghanistan and the entire region,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said on Monday. He did not name Zawahiri, but added that “repetition of such actions would damage existing opportunities.”

The scandal came at a delicate time: in late July, Taliban and US delegations met in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, to discuss releasing half of the Afghan central bank’s legal reserves of about $7 billion that the US confiscated following its withdrawal.

Zawahiri’s attack could strengthen more radical elements in the Taliban leadership, especially those who disagree with the US deal in the first place, said Hassan Abu Haniya, a Jordanian expert on jihadist groups.

“There are those who will say that the US is no longer abiding by the agreement, that the conversation was already problematic because the US does not recognize the Taliban and owns state funds,” Abu Haniya said.

“This view may have long-term implications.”