Ayman al-Zawahiri, one of the perpetrators of the 9-11 attacks that killed almost 3,000 people in New York, at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania, was killed by U.S. drone missiles in Afghanistan's capital, President Joe Biden announced yesterday.
Zawahiri was killed in an over-the-horizon operation in downtown Kabul, where he was residing as a guest of the Taliban. The house was struck by two Hellfire missiles in a precision, counterterrorism operation at 6:18 a.m. Kabul time on Sunday. Zawahiri was the only casualty. "We are confident through our intelligence sources and methods — including multiple streams of intelligence — that we killed Zawahiri and no other individuals," a senior administration official said. "His death deals a significant blow to al-Qaida and will degrade the group's ability to operate, including against the U.S. homeland."
Zawahiri led the al-Qaida terror group following the death of Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011, in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Zawahiri had served as bin Laden's deputy and helped plan terror attacks on the United States and Americans overseas, including the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000 that killed 17 sailors and wounded many others and the attacks on U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in August 1998 that killed 224 people and wounded more than 4,500. "He carved a trail of murder and violence against American citizens, American service members, American diplomats and American interests," Biden said in a statement.
Since bin Laden's death, Zawahiri coordinated al-Qaida's branches around the world — including setting priorities and providing operational guidance that called for and inspired attacks against U.S. targets, Biden said.
"Now, justice has been delivered, and this terrorist leader is no more," the president said. "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."
Locating Zawahiri was the result of careful, patient and persistent work by counterterrorism professionals, a defense official said. "Our ability to act on it effectively was made possible by quick, decisive action by the president once we knew with confidence where Zawahiri was located and that we could conduct the operation in a manner that limited the risk of civilian casualties," the official said. "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."
The mission to kill Zawahiri comes almost exactly a year after Biden ended the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan. "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 do us harm," he said at the White House. "And I made a promise to the American people that we'd continue to conduct effective counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan and beyond. We've done just that."
In a written statement, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Taliban had violated its agreement by hosting the al-Qaida leader. "By hosting and sheltering the leader of al-Qaida 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. They also betrayed the Afghan people and their own stated desire for recognition from and normalization with the international community."
Blinken said that despite the Taliban's unwillingness or inability to abide by their commitments, the United States 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.