Analysis & Observation Extra: al Qaeda Leader al Zawahiri Killed in Afghanistan Drone Strike

Source of mystery missile attack solved and its victim identified.

Dr. Ayman al-Zawahri in a photograph taken by Hamid Mir, who took this picture during his third and last interview with Osama bin Laden in November 2001 in Kabul. Dr. al-Zawahri was present at the interview where he acted as translator for bin Laden. Source: Wikipedia

So it would appear as though the mystery behind the recent missile attack in Kabul may have been solved, as news broke Monday that al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed in a CIA drone strike on Sunday in Afghanistan. As it turns out I was wrong in thinking that the explosion was probably linked to violence between Taliban factions, in fact, I hadn’t even considered this as a possibility. Then again I also wasn’t aware that the Egyptian-born cleric and heir to Usama bin Laden was even in Kabul, nor were many others.

This image taken from a video issued by As-Sahab, al Qaeda’s media branch, on April 5, 2022, shows al Qaeda leader Ayman Al Zawahiri speaking. (As-Sahab via AP)

Don’t uncork the champagne quite yet.

Screengrab from an address made by Joe Biden announcing the death of Ayman al-Zawahiri.

In announcing the death of Ayman al-Zawahiri, US President Joe Biden had the opportunity to make an address to the American people that many of his predecessors made. Making it almost seem as though they had gone out and killed one of the most wanted terrorists in the world, the fact is that Biden and the others just happened to be in office at the time these events took place. So even though Biden and his administration might be happy that something has finally happened which might actually translate into some better polling numbers heading into the mid-terms, they shouldn’t exactly be uncorking any champagne.

Many serious concerns still remain.

That al Zawahiri was hanging his hat in downtown Kabul came as a complete surprise to observers and analysts, myself included, but it just goes to show yet again that the Taliban had absolutely no intent on living up to their commitments in the Doha Agreement. As you may remember, one of the things that the Mullahs agreed to was that they wouldn’t allow al Qaeda or any other terrorist organizations to set up shop in areas under Taliban control. It would be rather impossible for them to deny knowledge of the fact that he was there when he was living in an area known to house their senior leadership and administration. Ties between the two groups were clearly not severed.

A statement put out by the Atlantic Council outlined their major concerns in the wake of the assassination.

Three critical counterterrorism concerns raised by the strike

The killing of Ayman al-Zawahiri is a huge blow for al-Qaeda, which has spent the past year working to rebuild its capabilities in Afghanistan after the chaotic US withdrawal. Zawahiri may not have been as charismatic a leader as his predecessor Osama bin Laden or Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of ISIS. But the fact that he has now met the same fate will demoralize al-Qaeda’s rank and file, demonstrating that no terrorist is beyond the United States’ reach.

While this is a day to celebrate, Zawahiri’s death raises a number of critical questions about the future of American counterterrorism.

First, Zawahiri’s presence in post-withdrawal Afghanistan may indicate that, as feared, the Taliban has once more granted safe haven to the leaders of al-Qaeda—a group with which it has never broken. Zawahiri evidently felt safe enough to move back to downtown Kabul.

Second, it’s not clear if Sunday’s success can be replicated against other terrorist targets. This was the first US drone strike in Afghanistan in almost a year, and it remains to be seen whether the administration has the capability or intent to systematically dismantle the terror networks in the country that threaten the homeland. Until we know more, we should resist the urge to see the strike as a vindication of “over the horizon” counterterrorism.

Third, the next man on al Qaeda’s depth chart is Saif al-Adel—who has long been a guest of the Iranian regime. Tehran and al-Qaeda have made common cause against their shared enemies in recent years. We’ll need to keep a close eye on what their relationship looks like if, as expected, Saif ascends to al-Qaeda’s top role.

Atlantic Council

Ending the charade.

It is well past time enough now for this ridiculous charade to come to an end. I’m speaking of the dog and pony show that the Mullahs have been putting on for the benefit of whatever foreign media happens to be in Kabul. It is high time they realize that their quest for international recognition has not and will not be successful and that there are consequences that need to be paid for their intransigence. They need to know in absolutely no uncertain terms that death will rain down upon them from above if they continue to constitute a threat not only to international security but also to the security and well-being of the people of Afghanistan. The targeting and brutal killing of innocent civilians whom they consider to be traitors who aided the “foreign invaders” needs to end, and the only way that will ever happen is if the Taliban are punished through the use of devastating military force by the US and its NATO allies.

NATO would rather be in the Balkans however.

There is absolutely no chance that NATO will be doing this, considering they didn’t act one year ago when they should have. Instead, they put on an embarrassing display in allowing themselves to prove completely ineffective against a group of misfits who didn’t even have a semblance of having any kind of organized and coordinated leadership at the helm. They still don’t have that.

Instead, NATO will be doing as it always has, intervening in a situation that would be best left to take care of itself on its own, not unlike their other Balkan adventures over the years. Rather than acting to try and fix the problems that it was responsible for creating in Afghanistan to begin with, NATO has decided that it has much better things to do, like setting up the conditions for an all-out global conflict which could end in catastrophe for the human race. The next time mystery missiles start to rain down on people, they could have nuclear warheads, and it won’t really matter who launched them.

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