Al Qaeda Leader Ayman Al Zawahiri Killed In U.S. Drone Strike (Updated)
Egyptian-born Ayman Al Zawahiri had taken over as head of Al Qaeda after the death of its founder Osama Bin Laden in a U.S. raid.
The White House says that U.S. President Joe Biden will make a public address later this evening regarding “a successful counterterrorism operation” targeting Al Qeada in Afghanistan. It has not been officially confirmed, but it is being widely reported already that a U.S. drone strike killed the terror group's leader Ayman Al Zawahiri. The U.S. military, as well as other arms of the U.S. government, completed a chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan nearly a year ago after the country's Western-backed government collapsed following the Taliban's recapture of Kabul.
Details are still limited, but a senior U.S. government official said that “over the weekend, the United States conducted a counterterrorism operation against a significant Al Qaeda target in Afghanistan," according to CNN. "The operation was successful and there were no civilian casualties."
Fox News and Reuters have both reported, citing anonymous sources, that a drone under the control of the Central Intelligence Agency, rather than the U.S. military, carried out the strike that killed the 71-year-old Al Zawahiri. As The War Zone has reported in the past, there is strong evidence of cooperation between the CIA and the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command, especially when it comes to drone strikes against very-high-value targets. The U.S. military is still officially carrying out so-called "over-the-horizon" counter-terrorism activities in Afghanistan from other countries as part of a post-withdrawal mission nicknamed Operation Enduring Sentinel.
It is also not immediately clear whether or not this is anyway linked to reports of a U.S. drone strike in the Afghan capital Kabul yesterday, which Taliban authorities in the country had claimed targeted members of the ISIS-K terrorist group.
A United Nations report published last year suggested that Al Zawahiri was likely hiding out somewhere along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. At the same time, there is significant evidence that Al Qaeda members have been enjoying greater freedom of movement in Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover.
The Egyptian-born Al Zawahiri has been a senior member of the group since 1998 and became its leader in 2011 following the death of its founder, the notorious Osama Bin Laden, as the result of a U.S. raid in Pakistan in May of that year. Al Qaeda put out a video of Al Zawahiri last year commemorating the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., which came after rumors that he had died.
The U.S. government had previously offered a $25 million reward for information leading to Al Zawahiri's capture.
We will continue to update this story as more information becomes available.
UPDATE: 8:15 PM EST —
President Joe Biden has now confirmed that he ordered a strike over the weekend that killed Ayman Al Zawahiri in Kabul, Afghanistan. He said that no civilians were killed in the strike, even though members of his family were also in the house when it was struck.
Zawahiri "was deeply involved in the planning of 9/11, one of the [individuals] most responsible for the attacks that murdered 2,977 people on American soil. For decades, he was the mastermind behind attacks against Americans, including the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, which killed 17 American sailors and wounded dozens more," Biden said in an address from the White House. "He played a key role in the bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 224 and wounding over 4,500 others. He carved a trail of murder and violence against American citizens, American service members, American diplomats, and American interests."
Biden highlighted how Zawahiri had led Al Qaeda since the death of Osama Bin Laden and continued to plan and otherwise inspire attacks from hiding.
"No matter 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 added.
Biden said that the U.S. strike was planned and carried out with a particular focus on minimizing civilian casualties. The U.S. government has weathered significant criticism in the past year or so following revelations about civilian casualties in other airstrikes carried out in Afghanistan and elsewhere by the Biden administration and its predecessors.
Biden also said that this strike proved he was making good on his promise to ensure that Afghanistan would not be a safe haven for terrorists following the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country last year. There continues to be significant criticism of the President over his responses to the declining security situation in Afghanistan and the ultimate collapse of the Western-backed government in Kabul just over a year ago, as well as what came next. In particular, thousands of Afghans who worked with the U.S. military, other arms of the U.S. government, and other elements of the international community remain in the country and at serious risk of Taliban reprisals despite ongoing efforts, including by various organizations made up of veterans and other private citizens, to help them relocate.
You can watch Biden's complete remarks in the video in the Tweet below.
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