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Friday August 19, 2022

Biden confirms Zawahiri killing in Kabul drone attack

I authorised the precision strike that would remove him from the battlefield, once and for all, says US president

August 03, 2022
Biden confirms Zawahiri killing in Kabul drone attack

WASHINGTON/PESHAWAR/RIYADH: The United States killed top al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a drone strike in Kabul, President Joe Biden confirmed Monday evening in a speech from the White House.

“I authorised the precision strike that would remove him from the battlefield, once and for all,” President Biden said adding that, “Justice has been delivered and this terrorist leader is no more.”

He emphasized that the US continues to demonstrate its resolve and its capacity to defend the American people against those who seek to do us harm. “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 president said.

The US intelligence community located Zawahiri earlier this year in April, when he moved to Kabul to be with his wife, daughter and grandchildren. A handful of Biden administration officials were informed about Zawahiri’s whereabouts and a comprehensive plan was made over the last few months to take him out without any civilian loss.

The deadly strike that targeted Zawahiri came almost a year after Biden ordered the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan; and 11 years after Osama bin Laden was killed in a special counterterrorism operation. “At 9.48 pm Eastern Time on July 30th, 6:18am Kabul Time on July 31st, the United States undertook a precision counterterrorism operation in Kabul, Afghanistan, at the president’s direction,” a senior US administration official shared details about the operation yesterday.

Zawahiri was sheltering in a house in downtown Kabul and was killed in a “precise tailored airstrike” using two Hellfire missiles, according to the senior administration official. There were no American personnel on the ground in Kabul at the time of the strike, and the Taliban were not alerted about the attack either. Zawahiri’s family members were present in other parts of the safe house at the time of the strike, and were purposefully not targeted and were unharmed.

“Senior Haqqani Taliban figures were aware of Zawahiri’s presence in Kabul,” the senior administration official further said. “We identified Zawahiri on multiple occasions for sustained periods of time on the balcony where he was ultimately struck.”

The Haqqani Taliban members removed Zawahiri’s wife, his daughter, and her children to another location, after the US drone strike. “Our ability to locate Zawahiri after years of hiding was the result of careful, patient and persistent work by our counterterrorism professionals,” the official said adding that the strike showed that without American forces on the ground in Afghanistan and in harm’s way, we remain able to identify and locate even the world’s most-wanted terrorist, and then take action to remove him from the battlefield.

The Taliban admitted earlier Tuesday that the US had carried out a drone strike, but gave no details of casualties — and did not name Zawahiri, who was considered a key plotter of the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

A Taliban leader told The News from Kabul: “We knew it was a drone strike but since after the incident took place, the top leadership is tightlipped. Nobody is willing to comment on what had happened.”

“Another major concern is the security of our top leadership as some of them are carrying head money announced by the US on their heads,” he said. The Taliban leader said they cannot rule out involvement of spies on the ground in helping the CIA. “I am sure our intelligence department will soon trace the spies if they are among us,” he said.

According to Taliban sources, Dr Zawahiri had spent much of his life in remote mountains of Musa Qala in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. “Sherpur is the safest place in Kabul where there around 1000 spacious houses built by wealthy and influential people of the former government of Ashraf Ghani. They fled and left behind these houses, which are now in the use of Taliban leaders,” said the Taliban leader.

He said Dr Zawahiri was accommodated in one such house, where access for common people was restricted. “You have to go through some checkpoints manned by trained reliable people of the Taliban leaders living in the area,” said the Taliban leader.

Meanwhile, many Afghans expressed shock or doubt Tuesday that al-Qaeda’s chief had been killed in Kabul by a US drone strike, saying they couldn’t believe Ayman Al-Zawahiri had been hiding in their midst. “It’s just propaganda,” Fahim Shah, 66, a resident of the Afghan capital, said.

A senior US official said the 71-year-old was on the balcony of a three-storey house in the upmarket Sherpur neighbourhood when targeted with two Hellfire missiles shortly after dawn Sunday.

“We have experienced such propaganda in the past and there was never anything in it,” Shah said. “In reality, I don’t think he was killed here.” On Sunday, the interior ministry had denied reports of a drone strike, but Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Tuesday that was because an investigation was underway.

The strike is sure to further sour already bitter relations between Washington and the Taliban. A US news agency reported the US drone strike intensified global scrutiny of Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers and further undermined their efforts to secure international recognition and desperately needed aid.

It said the Taliban had promised in the 2020 Doha Agreement on the terms of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan that they would not harbour al-Qaeda members or those seeking to attack the US. Yet a mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks, who has called for striking the United States in numerous video messages in recent years, lived for months apparently sheltered by senior Taliban figures.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia welcomed the US announcement that al-Qaeda head Ayman al-Zawahiri had been killed, the foreign ministry said Tuesday.

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia welcomes the announcement by US President Joe Biden of the targeting and killing of the terrorist leader of al-Qaeda Ayman Al-Zawahiri,” it said.

The Saudi foreign ministry said he was “considered one of the leaders of terrorism that led the planning and execution of heinous terrorist operations in the United States, Saudi Arabia and a number of other countries of the world”.

“Thousands of innocent people of different nationalities and religions, including Saudi citizens, were killed,” the statement said. “The Kingdom´s government stressed the importance of strengthening cooperation and concerted international efforts to combat and eradicate terrorism, calling on all countries to cooperate in this framework to protect innocent people from terrorist organisations.”

Foreign Ministry said that Pakistan condemns terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. Responding to media queries, the Spokesperson of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan said that they had seen the official statements by the United States and media reports regarding a counter-terrorism operation carried out by the US in Afghanistan, says a press release on Tuesday.

Spokesperson said that Pakistan’s role and sacrifices in the fight against terrorism are well-known. Pakistan stands by countering terrorism in accordance with international law and relevant UN resolutions, he added.

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