Al-Qaeda's No. 2, Ayman Al Zawahiri, is Killed in Precision Drone Strike
A victory for America's over-the-horizon military capabilities also raises questions about the Taliban's commitment to prevent another terrorist safe haven in Afghanistan.
Ayman al-Zawahiri, 71, was killed in a US drone strike on his balcony in downtown Kabul, Afghanistan over the weekend, the product of months of highly secret planning by Biden and a tight circle of his senior advisers.
Americans knew him as al-Qaeda’s No. 2 leader, the bespectacled, bushy-bearded deputy to Osama bin Laden. But in reality, it was Ayman al-Zawahiri’s brains and blood-drenched hands that guided the world’s most notorious terrorist movement, reports The Washington Post.
Excerpt from The Washington Post: In an address to the nation, President Biden confirmed the death and called the attack a "precision strike" that did not cause civilian casualties. Zawahiri had led his own militant group and pioneered a brand of terrorism that prized spectacular attacks and the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians. When he formally merged his group with al-Qaeda in the 1990s, he brought along those tactics as well as an expanded vision for attacking the West. It was Zawahiri who postulated that defeating the "far enemy" — the United States — was an essential precursor to taking on al-Qaeda’s "near enemy," the pro-Western Arab regimes that stood in the way of the group’s dream of uniting all Muslims under a global caliphate.
According to TIME, The killing of Zawahiri in Afghanistan’s capital on Sunday morning demonstrated the deadly power and reach of U.S. intelligence services, even a full year after President Biden withdrew all U.S. forces from the country. But one aspect of the assassination is alarming counterterrorism experts: its precise location.
Excerpt from TIME: The fact that Al Qaeda’s top leader was living with his family in an expensive neighborhood in downtown Kabul breaks into public view the degree to which the Taliban has given Al Qaeda’s leadership license to operate inside the country and, in some cases, even placing them in high-level positions in the government. "We believe that there were senior members of the Haqqani Network who are affiliated with the Taliban who did know that al-Zawahiri was in Kabul," Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security advisor, said on NBC News on Tuesday. "There may have been other members of the Taliban that did not know." Zawahiri played a key role in planning the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, as well as the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and took over Al Qaeda after Osama bin Laden’s death in 2011. Biden administration officials have said Zawahiri remained in charge of the terrorist group up until his death on Sunday.
The absence of collateral damage in the strike was due in large part to the type of missile used as well as the weeks of surveillance which allowed US intelligence services to determine a pattern of life and be able to target an isolated Zawahari on the balcony.
The terrorist leader was killed by a drone-fired Hellfire - a type of air-to-surface missile that has become a fixture of US counter-terrorism operations overseas in the decades since the 11 September 2001 attacks. The missile can be fired from a variety of platforms, including helicopters, ground vehicles, ships and fixed wing aircraft - or, in Zawahiri's case, from an unmanned drone, reports BBC News.
Excerpt from BBC News: Among the main reasons for the Hellfire's repeated use is its precision. When a missile is launched from a drone, a weapons operator - sometimes sitting in an air-conditioned control room as far away as the continental US - sees a live video stream of the target, which the drone's camera sensors feed back via satellite. Using a set of "targeting brackets" on the screen, the camera operator is then able to "lock up" the target and point a laser at it. Once the missile is fired, it follows the path of that laser until striking the target. In the case of the Zawahiri strike, it has been suggested, but not confirmed, that the US also used a relatively unknown version of the Hellfire - the R9X - which deploys six blades to slice through targets using its kinetic energy. "It sounds like they were very careful and deliberate in this instance to find him in a location and at a time when they could hit just him and not harm any other person," said Professor William Banks, an expert on targeted killings and the founder of the Syracuse University Institute for Security Policy and Law.