Ayman al-Zawahiri killed: How CIA tracked and eliminated al Qaeda chief in Afghanistan | World News

Washington: In a significant development, President Joe Biden announced that al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri, a global terrorist, was killed in a US drone strike in Kabul, an operation he hailed as delivering “justice” while expressing hope that it brings “one more measure of closure” to families of the victims of September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Al-Zawahri and the better-known Osama bin Laden plotted the 9/11 attacks that brought many ordinary Americans their first knowledge of al-Qaida. Bin Laden was killed in Pakistan on May 2, 2011, in an operation carried out by US Navy Seals after a nearly decade-long hunt.

How was Ayman al-Zawahri chief tracked?


The US President said in a televised address from the White House that US intelligence officials tracked al-Zawahri to a home in downtown Kabul where he was hiding out with his family. The president approved the operation last week and it was carried out Sunday. 

“He will never again, never again, allow Afghanistan to become a terrorist safe haven because he is gone and we’re going to make sure that nothing else happens,” Biden said. “This terrorist leader is no more,” he added. The operation is a significant counterterrorism win for the Biden administration just 11 months after American troops left the country after a two-decade war.

Who carried out the drone strike?


The strike was carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency, according to five people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Neither Biden nor the White House detailed the CIA’s involvement in the strike. Biden, however, paid tribute to the US intelligence community in his remarks, noting that “thanks to their extraordinary persistence and skill”, the operation was a “success.”

Al-Zawahiri’s loss eliminates the figure who more than anyone shaped al-Qaida, first as 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 September 11 suicide hijackings.

Where was Al-Zawahri hiding in Afghanistan?


The house Al-Zawahri was in when he was killed was owned by a top aide to senior Taliban leader Sirajuddin Haqqani, according to a senior intelligence official. The official also added that a CIA ground team and aerial reconnaissance conducted after the drone strike confirmed al-Zawahri’s death. A senior administration official who briefed reporters on the operation on condition of anonymity said “zero” US personnel were in Kabul.

Over the 20-year war in Afghanistan, the US targeted and splintered al-Qaida, sending leaders into hiding. But America’s exit from Afghanistan last September gave the extremist group the opportunity to rebuild. US military officials, including Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have said al-Qaida was trying to reconstitute in Afghanistan, where it faced limited threats from the now-ruling Taliban. Military leaders have warned that the group still aspired to attack the US.

After his killing, the White House sought to underscore that al-Zawahri had continued to be a dangerous figure. The senior administration official said he had continued to “provide strategic direction,” including urging attacks on the US, while in hiding.

Al-Zawahri brought tactics and organisational skills to Al Qaeda 


The 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon made bin Laden America’s Enemy No. 1. But he likely could never have carried it out without his deputy. Bin Laden provided al-Qaida with charisma and money, but al-Zawahri brought the tactics and organisational skills needed to forge militants into a network of cells in countries around the world.

How the operation to track al-Zawahri began?


In early April, White House deputy national security adviser Jon Finer and Biden’s homeland security adviser Elizabeth D. Sherwood-Randall were briefed on this developing intelligence. Soon the intelligence was carried up to National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. US intelligence officials have been aware for years of a network helping al-Zawahri dodge US intelligence officials hunting for him, but didn’t have a bead on his possible location until recent months. Earlier this year, US officials learned that the terror leader’s wife, daughter and her children had relocated to a safe house in Kabul, according to the senior administration official who briefed reporters. Officials eventually learned al-Zawahri was also at the Kabul safe house.

Sullivan brought the information to Biden as US intelligence officials built “a pattern of life through multiple independent sources of information to inform the operation,” the official said. Senior Taliban figures were aware of al-Zawahri’s presence in Kabul, according to the official, who added the Taliban government was given no forewarning of the operation. 

On July 25, the president convened his key Cabinet members and advisors to receive a final briefing and discuss how killing Zawahiri would affect America`s relationship with the Taliban, among other issues, the official said. After soliciting views from others in the room, Biden authorized “a precise tailored air strike” on the condition that it minimize the risk of civilian casualties.

The strike was ultimately carried out at 9:48 p.m. ET (0148 GMT) on July 30 by a drone firing so-called “hellfire” missiles.

Who all knew about the covert US operation?

Inside the Biden administration, only a small group of officials at key agencies, as well as Vice President Kamala Harris, were brought into the process. On July 1, Biden was briefed in the Situation Room about the planned operation, a briefing in which the president closely examined a model of the home Zawahri was hiding out in. He gave his final approval for the operation on Thursday. Al-Zawahri was standing on the balcony of his hideout when the two Hellfire missiles were launched from an unmanned drone, killing him.

Al-Zawahiri’s family was in another part of the house when the operation was carried out, and no one else was believed to have been killed in the operation, the official said. “We make it clear again tonight: That no matter how long it takes, no matter where you hide, if you are a threat to our people, the United States will find you and take you out,” Biden said.

(With Agency Inputs)

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