Tuesday 2 August 2022

U.S. Drone Strike in Kabul Kills Top Qaeda Leader Ayman al Zawahiri (VIDEO)

I watched President Biden's address live this afternoon, now available at the video below.

And at the Wall Street Journal, "U.S. Says Drone Strike Killed al Qaeda Leader Ayman al Zawahiri":

First known U.S. counterrorism operation in Afghanistan since exit last year targeted a private residence in Afghan capital.

WASHINGTON—The White House said Monday that a U.S. missile launched from a drone in Afghanistan killed al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri, a founding member of the jihadist movement and one of the key strategists behind an international campaign of terror that culminated in the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S.

The U.S. strike targeted a safe house in a residential area in central Kabul on Sunday morning, in what was the first known counterrorism operation in the country since U.S. forces withdrew last year. The Biden administration said the Taliban was aware that al Zawahiri was hiding in Kabul, the clearest display of the continuing alliance between al Qaeda and the group now ruling Afghanistan.

Speaking from the White House balcony on Monday, President Biden announced the strike, describing al Zawahiri as a terror leader who for decades “was the mastermind behind the attacks against Americans.” Those attacks included the 2000 attack on the USS Cole, which killed 17 sailors and wounded dozens of others and 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people and injured more than 4,500.

Al Zawahiri, 71, was an Egyptian national and longtime deputy of al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden. In the lead up to 9/11, Zawahiri was the most important of bin Laden’s advisers as they planned the hijackings. He was also instrumental in shaping how the terror group used the 2001 attacks to gain members, often through propaganda letters and videos.

Mr. Biden during his eight-minute address said he approved the “carefully planned” operation a week ago “after being advised conditions were optimal.”

“The United States did not seek its war on terror. You came to us. We answered with the same principles and resolve that has shaped us for generations upon generation to protect the innocent and defend liberty,” Mr. Biden said.

The Taliban seized power during America’s final weeks in the country after two decades of war.

The group has publicly pledged to prevent Afghanistan from being used as a haven for terrorist organizations, and claims that it seeks peaceful relations with all countries.

The revelation that al Qaeda’s leader and family moved to a safe house in one of the most affluent parts of Kabul soon after the Taliban returned to power undermines those claims.

A senior Biden administration official said Zawahiri was killed by two U.S. Hellfire missiles fired from a drone as he stood on the balcony of the safe house in downtown Kabul.

“Senior Haqqani Taliban figures were aware of Zawahiri’s presence in Kabul,” the official said.

Pentagon officials said they had no knowledge of the strike and the senior Biden administration official declined to specify which U.S. agency was responsible, suggesting it was a CIA operation. The CIA declined to comment.

The strike is a badly needed victory for the Biden administration after the chaotic U.S. military withdrawal last summer that helped return the Taliban’s most conservative factions to power.

The White House said no civilian casualties resulted from the strike just after 6 a.m. on Sunday morning.

There was no known response from al Qaeda.

The Taliban condemned the attack, calling it a violation of international law and the agreement it signed with the U.S. in 2020 that set the terms of America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“Such actions are repetitions of the failed experiences of the past 20 years and are against U.S., Afghanistan and the region’s interests,” said Zabiullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s chief spokesman.

The last U.S. drone strike in Afghanistan one year ago killed 10 civilian members of an Afghan family in the final week of U.S. presence in the country. The casualties included seven children. The operation was initially described as successful. The U.S. later admitted that the target was a mistake.

The U.S. intelligence community has “high confidence” that the dead individual is Zawahiri, the official said.

The president was first briefed on plans for a strike on July 1 in the White House Situation Room by advisers including CIA Director William Burns, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and Christine Abizaid, director of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, the Biden official said.

Mr. Biden made the decision to order the strike at a July 25 meeting with top advisers at which all the participants recommended going forward with it, the official said.

The official said that for several years, U.S. intelligence agencies had been aware of a network of individuals that supported the al Qaeda leader.

Intelligence agencies tracked several members of Zawahiri’s family, including his wife and children, as they moved to Kabul. The United States then got confirmation that Zawahiri himself was in Kabul.

In early April, that intelligence was briefed to deputy national security adviser Jonathan Finer and White House homeland security adviser Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, then later to national security adviser Jake Sullivan and the president, the official said.

As with the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden, U.S. spy agencies built a replica of the house where Zawahiri was staying, and brought it to meetings with Mr. Biden and his aides, the official said. Specialists used the model to confirm that Zawahiri could be killed in a missile strike without collapsing the entire structure and killing civilians, including members of his family.

After the strike, Haqqani Taliban members sought to cover up the fact that Zawahiri had taken shelter there by moving Zawahiri’s family to another location, according to the administration official.

“The safe house used by Zawahiri is now empty,” the official said.

Under the terms of the agreement signed with the Trump administration in February 2020, the Taliban vowed to prevent Afghanistan from being used as a haven for al Qaeda and other terrorist groups to plan attacks against the U.S. and its allies.

But the Taliban didn’t explicitly commit to continuing operations to target the group or to break ties with them.

The United Nations has since reported that the Taliban and al Qaeda remain closely connected...

No comments: