It is possible that the terrorist leader, wanted for his role in masterminding the 9/11 attacks and then becoming head of al Qaeda after the 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden, did not know his death was coming.
Some details of the operation that killed him were shared by President Biden in a televised address Monday night. Other details were shared by senior administration officials, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity.
Senior intelligence officials told Related press that al-Zawahiri had moved to Afghanistan and sought refuge with his family in a house in downtown Kabul, a home owned by a top aide to senior Taliban leader Sirajuddin Haqqani.
His followers have waited patiently for years, and over the past several months have been able to build a lifestyle through independent sources that helped inform the president’s decision to go on strike.
Like his predecessor Osama bin Laden, the officials said the al Qaeda leader was identified on the balcony several times, and by April there was enough confidence that they had found him, that the president was briefed.
In the end, death was pronounced with a Hellfire Rocket launched from a drone that some officials have said was an operation. administered by the CIA. A CIA ground team is said to have confirmed that the victim of the attack was indeed al-Zawahiri. White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told ABC “Good Morning America” that “there was no one in uniform on the ground when the strike happened.”
Cipher Brief reached out to several experts to find out their thoughts on what it means to kill al-Zawahiri today.
General David Petraeus (Ret.)US Army (Ret.), Former Strike Command in Iraq, US Central Command, NATO/US Forces in Afghanistan and former Director of CIA
The act of bringing Ayman Al-Zawahiri to justice in Kabul is significant in several respects. First, it clearly removes the Emir of Al Qaeda, who replaced Osama Bin Laden and the most prominent AQ leader besides Osama bin Laden; in fact, Zawahiri has been by bin Laden’s side since Zawahiri merged Egypt’s Islamic Jihad with AQ in the late 1990s and is often considered the “brain” behind many of the most sensational attacks. performed by AQ. This attack thus ended the bloody extremist career of a man responsible for countless attacks over decades on members of the US military, US citizens, allies. our lives around the world and the very way we live – attacks include the East African Embassy bombings, the USS Cole attack, the 9/11 attacks and many more. Second, this operation was a huge success for our intelligence and counterterrorism communities, and it reminds us of the continued importance of what they do, even after several years of devastation. advance of the Islamic State Caliphate in northern Iraq and northeastern Syria and the damage done to many of the remaining elements of Islamic State and Al Qaeda there and around the world. Third, it also demonstrates the ability of our intelligence and CT communities to fight extremists in Afghanistan from the “front”, even without bases in Afghanistan anymore – and that is particularly important to the growth and activities of the Islamic State Khorasan Group in Afghanistan since the Taliban regime took control of the country and presents the challenges IS-KG is posing to the Taliban. . And fourth, it shows that the Taliban are blatantly violating their commitments in the Doha Agreement and openly disallowing international extremists from having shelter in Afghanistan. Given that Zawahiri is believed to be sheltered by Sirajuddin Haqqani, one of the highest-ranking leaders of the Taliban regime (and a designated terrorist with a sizable reward on top), it’s clear that Al Qaeda is still very close. with the Taliban. And this should serve as a warning to the US and the world about the need to keep significant pressure on extremists in Afghanistan – noting that the Islamic State is the object of greatest concern right now. All in all, this is a very good day for the United States and our allies and partners around the world – as well as the members of the public who have worked together so skillfully to bring about justice. Such a remarkable, dangerous and elusive radical leader. . But it also carries a warning that we will have to continue to concentrate significant assets in Afghanistan and that extremists are taking advantage of the situation there.
Ric Pradoformer Director of Operations, CIA Counter-Terrorism Center (CTC)
As “game master” of Task Force Bin Ladin (Alec Station) starting January 1996, I am immensely proud of the perseverance of my Agency colleagues, like Bin Ladin , never forgetting people like Al-Zawahiri. While some might argue that it won’t slow future acts of terrorism, I disagree. Like a death sentence for murder, it prevents. Or, at least, it cripples their ability to plan future attacks against the United States and our allies, with impunity. It makes their activities go deeper into the ground and those who know our craft, know this. Now, I just wish we could track down the dozens of known terrorists who are openly living in so many places outside the war zone, and who also have the blood of our countrymen on their hands. While part of the CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Center (CTC) motto is Free, Disrupt… the best that comes to mind is our latch from the 1990s which says: “Anytime, Anywhere, But It Will Happen Long term.” In memory of Mike Spann, Jennifer Mathews, Gary Schroen and many others.
The Hon. Susan GordonFormer Vice Rector of the National Intelligence Service
I had a lot of thoughts after the news of Al-Zawahri’s murder, among them: that the real work of national security is the daily work done by tireless professionals who gather focused on keeping America and her interests and allies safe through hard work, ingenuity, and perseverance; that the Intelligence Community continues to provide an edge, even in a changing world; and that the “We will never forget” mantra in the 9/11 post was never just an introductory line for women and men in turn. That’s not the end of the terrorist threat, but it’s a good sign that the counter-forces have engaged very well.
General Joseph Votel (Ret.)Former Commander of CENTCOM
Congratulations to our CT specialists who orchestrated this important strike. It proves that the United States will never falter in bringing those who attack or conspire against our citizens or interests to justice. It also reminds us that effective counterterrorism operations require patience, persistence, and sustained resources. This is a long game, and while we must necessarily focus on maintaining our competitive edge over China, we can never focus on the persistent threat of terrorism. Father.
Lieutenant General Scott Howell (Ret.)former Commander, Joint Special Operations Command
I am extremely impressed with the operation to find, repair and finish off the emir al-Qa’ida Ayman al-Zawahiri after more than two decades in hiding. This operation is even more impressive given the limitations of the operating environment following the withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan. Performing this type of attack in the absence of U.S. support on the ground, with drastically reduced intelligence infrastructure, limited access to bases in the region, and no civilian casualties say enhance the capability, skill, and professionalism of U.S. counterterrorism and targeting efforts. I pay tribute to the intelligence and counterterrorism experts who have remained focused on lasers for many years. The painstaking work of sifting through bits of intelligence, finding connections, asking hypothetical questions, manually evaluating and working through layers of situations & “what if” requires a level of dedication and high endurance. This is a bold mission that risks damaging U.S. interests if it is seen as an awkward re-cooperation or causing more suffering for the Afghan people. Instead, the surgical strike in densely populated Kabul caused no civilian casualties or collateral damage and eliminated a generational master of terror. It sends a powerful message that US counterterrorism pressure is persistent, precise, and unrelenting.
James Clapperformer Director of National Intelligence, ODNI
This is an extraordinary intelligence achievement. And it represents another form of closure for 9/11 victims and families. I think it takes on more symbolic importance now because Zawahiri has isolated himself so physically and electronically, that he has become more of an ideological puppet than a leader. activity direction. I have to believe he must have taken down his operational security guard by moving to Kabul, and that seems to have opened the intelligence gap.
John McLaughlinformer acting director of the CIA
President Biden was right to stress the importance of bringing justice to Ayman al-Zawahiri. It later became clear that this was the result of many months of intellectual work on the part of the patient and his ability to act with extraordinary precision. Zawahiri has great prestige in the Jihadi movement, going back to his opposition to the Egyptian government many years ago. He contributed a strategic perspective to complement bin Laden’s charisma (something Zawahiri lacked). In recent years, I think he has retained some respect in the movement but not much power. Much of the real power and power has been vested in Al-Qaeda affiliates in places like Yemen, Syria, and northern and sub-Saharan regions of Africa. I believe they all operate with minimal direction from the central authority, which has deprived them of the ability to financially support them. Thus, his death does not significantly affect the leadership of Al-Qaeda, which is now widely distributed. Where Zawahiri may be most important in brokering an easy environment for an Al-Qaeda resurgence in Afghanistan, which may have explained his presence there. His killing in the heart of Kabul shows that the Taliban are once again welcoming to jihadist groups, or at least Al-Qaeda, in contrast to their commitment to fighting terrorism. They can see Al-Qaeda as an ally against ISIS, which is stronger, bigger, richer, and against the Taliban government. The success of the operation is testament to the CIA’s continued focus on counterterrorism over the past 20 years; It never becomes the same thing again. To borrow a line from the old James Bond movie theme song, “nobody did it better”. It is hard work, detail-oriented, reliant on experience, precise intelligence, fine judgment, exquisite patience and timing – and unwavering dedication. Not cheering for my former colleagues, simply stating a fact.
Robert CardilloFormer Director, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency
The recent release of justice by the United States to Ayman Al-Zawahri is a testament to our enduring commitment to the memory of all souls lost on September 11, 2001. All Americans should be proud of our constant vigilance in defending our freedom.
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