August 2, 2022

Al-Zawahiri Killed

Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed in a U.S. strike in Afghanistan over the weekend, the biggest blow to the militant group since its founder Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011.” Reuters

Both sides praise the strike but worry about the fact that Zawahiri was hiding in Kabul:

“Al-Zawahiri was second only to Osama bin Laden himself within al-Qaeda’s hierarchy. Alongside bin Laden, he orchestrated the 9/11 attacks, in addition to a wave of Islamist violence across the world. To al-Zawahiri, mass death was a religious duty ‘for every Muslim who can do it in every country in which it is possible to do it,’ he wrote in 1998. Accordingly, from New York City to London to Baghdad, Zawahiri was responsible for plotting acts of terror that murdered thousands…

“With this operation, the president and our military and intelligence networks have finally made Zawahiri pay the price he long ago deserved… Al-Zawahiri’s death will not reverse the evil he inflicted on innocent people. But it makes the world a safer place. May whichever fanatical lowlife rises up to take his place be dispatched much more quickly.”
The Editors, National Review

There is deep symbolism in the killing of Zawahiri, an Egyptian surgeon turned radical Islamic ideologue who was wanted by the US for years even before the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington. Zawahiri was indicted by the FBI for his alleged role in the bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, which heralded a new age of al Qaeda terrorism directed against Americans. He had a key role in the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000. Successive presidents vowed to bring the leaders of bin Laden's terrorist network to justice, and Biden is the latest to have done so, in one of the few common threads in recent US foreign policy spanning administrations.”
Stephen Collinson, CNN

One fact about this drone strike hints at a much larger finding: It took place in Afghanistan. It turns out Zawahiri was living with his family in a large safehouse in downtown Kabul—meaning he had to be there with the Taliban’s full blessing. This means that, contrary to the Taliban’s assurances, they have been plotting a revival of their alliance with al-Qaida…

“Bruce Riedel, a former CIA terrorism analyst now at the Brookings Institution, said in an email Monday, ‘It is very disturbing but not surprising that he was hiding in a house owned by the Taliban.’ Zawahiri had longtime connections with the Haqqani network, a jihadist group with strong ties to Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI. ‘This raises serious questions,’ Riedel said, ‘about what the ISI is doing with al-Qaida’ and about what both might be doing with the Taliban. By authorizing this weekend’s attack, Biden may have weakened those alliances and slowed down whatever they might have been plotting, but it’s unlikely that he shut them down altogether.”
Fred Kaplan, Slate

“Zawahiri’s discovery in Kabul suggests close collaboration between the Taliban and al Qaeda. The Taliban provided sanctuary to al Qaeda before Sept. 11, 2001, and it’s impossible to believe that Taliban officials didn’t know Zawahiri was in their midst. The Taliban are giving safe harbor to jihadists even if they aren’t joining their plots to strike the U.S… The strike should be a warning to the Taliban that abetting al Qaeda is a bad survival strategy. If terrorists based in Afghanistan plot and kill Americans, the Taliban should understand that their leaders will also be targets.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

Other opinions below.

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From the Left

“If anyone deserved to be julienned by a Cuisinart blade dropped from the heavens by the CIA, it was Zawahiri… But the truth is that Zawahiri’s killing probably will not have much effect on global terrorism, because the younger jihadist generation has already ceased to regard him as a leader, spiritual or otherwise. Zawahiri’s crowning achievement, the September 11 attacks, turned out to be a one-off, and its plotters spent most of the rest of their lives on the run, or bored senseless in Guantanamo Bay…

“The jihadist movement that achieved something new was the Islamic State—which ridiculed Zawahiri, called him a goofball and a geezer, and set out on a path of wanton destruction against his orders. It mocked him for his deference to the Taliban and for swearing allegiance to its founder, Mullah Omar, who turned out to have been dead for years. Many of the possible successors to Zawahiri have already split off into other jihadist groups, and have long been trying to bring about carnage and a terrestrial paradise without Al Qaida’s consent. They certainly will not seek the consent of his successor.”

Graeme Wood, The Atlantic

From the Right

“Biden said that Zawahiri had ‘made videos, including in recent weeks, calling for his followers to attack the United States and our allies.’ If he was known to be in Kabul in May, and made videos urging his followers to kill Americans in ‘recent weeks,’ that means Zawahiri was planning and inciting external operations against the United States from Afghanistan… A critical question now is what operations was Zawahiri planning? Unfortunately, we might never know…

“Unlike the 2011 raid that killed bin Laden, the operation that killed Zawahiri was not carried out by a team of U.S. Special Operations forces. That’s because, thanks to Biden, the United States no longer has boots on the ground. Zawahiri had to be taken out by drone strike, which means we had no ability to exploit the site where Zawahiri was killed by collecting pocket litter, computers, hard drives, cellphones, documents or other material intelligence… Biden deserves credit for the strike. But he also deserves blame for creating the conditions that allowed the world’s most-wanted terrorist to move to downtown Kabul and set up operations.”

Marc A. Thiessen, Washington Post

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