(WASHINGTON) — A CIA drone strike has killed al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri in Afghanistan, according to five people familiar with the matter.
Former and current officials heard Sunday afternoon about the death of al-Zawahri in a drone strike. However, the government delayed the release until the fact could be confirmed. One person spoke under the condition that anonymity to talk more about the subject.
White House officials declined to confirm al-Zawahri was killed but noted in a statement that the United States conducted a “successful” counterterrorism operation against a significant al-Qaida target, adding that “there were no civilian casualties.”
The President Joe Biden will discuss the details in an address at 7:30 PM EDT to the nation.
According to a senior intelligence officer, an American ground team had been present in Afghanistan for support of the strike but was later withdrawn.
Al-Zawahri’s loss eliminates the figure who more than anyone shaped al-Qaida, first as Osama bin Laden’s deputy since 1998, then as his successor. Together, he and bin Laden turned the jihadi movement’s guns to target the United States, carrying out the deadliest attack ever on American soil — the Sept. 11, 2001, suicide hijackings.
The attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon made bin Laden America’s Enemy No. 1. However, he probably couldn’t have accomplished it without his deputy. Bin Laden gave al-Qaida charisma and money. But al-Zawahri provided the tactics and organization skills to organize militants in a network of cells throughout countries.
They formed a bond in late 1980s when al-Zawahri, a Saudi billionaire bin Laden, allegedly treated him in caves in Afghanistan after Soviet bombardment shaken the mountain surrounds them.
Biden intended to speak from the balcony overlooking the White House Blue Room. He is currently isolated at the White House while he tests positive for COVID-19.
Biden stated that America would continue to fight terrorism, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, on August 31, 2021.
“We will maintain the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and other countries,” he said. “We just don’t need to fight a ground war to do it.” Previewing the strike that would occur 11 months later, Biden said at the time, “We have what’s called over-the-horizon capabilities, which means we can strike terrorists and targets without American boots on the ground — or very few, if needed.”
There have been rumors of al-Zawahri’s death on and off for several years. In April, an al-Qaida leader was seen praising an Indian Muslim woman for refusing to wear a headcarf. The footage provided the first evidence in several months of his existence.
A statement from Afghanistan’s Taliban government confirmed the airstrike, but did not mention al-Zawahri or any other casualties.
It said it “strongly condemns this attack and calls it a clear violation of international principles and the Doha Agreement,” the 2020 U.S. pact with the Taliban that led to the withdrawal of American forces.
“Such actions are a repetition of the failed experiences of the past 20 years and are against the interests of the United States of America, Afghanistan, and the region,” the statement said.
Reporting by Lolita C.Baldor, James LaPorta and Zeke Miller, Associated Press reporters in Washington, and Rahim Faiez, Islamabad, was contributed by Rahim Faiez.
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