Ayman Al Zawahiri succeeded Osama bin Laden as Al Qaeda leader after years as the group’s main organiser and strategist.
The Taliban “grossly” breached the Doha Agreement by hosting and sheltering Al Qaeda’s top leader Ayman Al Zawahiri, the United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday, as Washington announced his killing.
In February 2020, under the former Donald Trump administration, the US and the Taliban signed the US–Taliban deal (or the Doha Agreement) in Qatar that set 1 May 2021 as the deadline for the complete withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan.
The US said it would go ahead with the withdrawal if the Taliban halted its support for terrorist organisations.
The Al Qaeda leader was killed in a “precision” US airstrike in Afghanistan over the weekend by the CIA, President Joe Biden said on Monday. This was considered a massive move against the militant group since its founder Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011.
The precision attack is the first ‘known’ US strike to occur in Afghanistan since the Washington withdrew its troops and diplomats from the country in August last year.
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed in a statement that the attack took place on Monday and expressed that the ruling acting government of Afghanistan staunchly condemned the act as a violation of “international principles” and the 2020 agreement on a complete US troop withdrawal.
Al Zawahiri, an Egyptian surgeon with a $25 million bounty on his head, was allegedly one of the Al Qaeda militants behind the 11 September 2001 attacks in the US.
He assumed leadership as Al Qaeda leader following the killing of bin Laden after years serving as the group’s lead organiser and strategist. There were circulating rumours of Al Zawahiri’s supposed death several times in the past few years, with other reports saying that he had poor health conditions.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, US officials detailed Al Zawahiri was killed by “hellfire” missiles from a US drone when he came out on the balcony of his safe house in the centre of Kabul on Sunday morning.
“Now justice has been delivered, and this terrorist leader is no more,” US President Joe Biden said in remarks from the White House on Monday. “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 he had approved of the drone strike in downtown Kabul and that “no civilians were killed.”
The spokesperson for the interior ministry Abdul Nafi Takor noted a rocket had hit a house in Sherpoor, an upscale residential neighbourhood of the city which also houses a number of embassies.
Taliban officials placed a “security dragnet” engulfing the house in Sherpoor on Tuesday, with journalists prohibited from getting close by.
Al Zawahiri was previously in Helmand province and had moved to Kabul after the Taliban took over the country in August 2021, a senior Taliban official told Reuters.
Al Zawahiri “continued to pose an active threat to US persons, interests and national security,” said one senior administration official during a conference call with reporters.
“His death deals a significant blow to Al Qaeda and will degrade the group’s ability to operate.”
This move also raised the question as to whether the Taliban adhered to the Doha Agreement’s condition in not allowing Al Qaeda members to cement a foothold in the country.
“The Taliban will have to answer for Al Zawahiri’s presence in Kabul, after assuring the world they would not give safe haven to al-Qaeda terrorists,” Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a statement.
Former US President Barack Obama also echoed US officials in praising the operation, saying: “Tonight’s news is also proof that it’s possible to root out terrorism without being at war in Afghanistan.”
“It’s a tribute to President Biden’s leadership, to the members of the intelligence community who have been working for decades for this moment, and to the counterterrorism professionals who were able to take Al Zawahiri out without a single civilian casualty.”
The world also witnessed ten times more air strikes in the “covert war on terror” during Obama’s presidency than under his predecessor, George W. Bush who led the Global War on Terror.
Obama highly endorsed the US drone programme, authorising more strikes in his first year in the office than Bush ever carried out during his entire time as president of the United States.
A total of 563 strikes, predominantly carried out by drones, targeted Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen during Obama’s two terms, compared to the total 57 strikes under Bush.
Between 384 and 807 civilians were killed in those countries, according to reports revealed by the Bureau.
Until 2017, Afghanistan had been under frequent US bombardment, in an ‘unreported war’ that saw 1,337 weapons dropped in 2016 alone, a 40% rise on 2015.