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The United States killed the leader of al Qaeda, Ayman Al Zawahri in a “successful” counterterrorism operation in Afghanistan over the weekend that senior Biden administration officials say “deals a significant blow” to the terror network and degrades its ability to operate, including against the US homeland.
The United States government, on July 30 at 9:48 pm ET, and 6:18 am Kabul time, undertook a “precision counterterrorism operation,” killing Al Zawahiri, who served as Usama bin Laden’s deputy during the 9/11 attacks, and as his successor in 2011, following bin Laden’s death.
President Biden spoke to the American people to announce the strike, saying Monday: “the United States continues to demonstrate our resolve and our capacity to defend the American people against those who seek to do us harm. You know, we 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.”
“Al Zawahiri continued to pose an active threat to US persons, interests, and national security,” a senior administration official said Monday.
The official explained that the US government has “multiple intelligence sources via multiple methods that had enabled us to confirm that this was Zawahiri, and that we were successful in achieving our objective.”
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Officials said there were no civilian casualties as a result of the operation.
The official said that the US government identified Zawahiri at a location in Kabul.
“The Al Zawahiri family exercised longstanding terrorist tradecraft that we assessed was designed to prevent anyone from following them to Zawahiri,” the official explained, noting that the government identified Zawahiri’s wife, daughter and her children at a safe house in Kabul this year.
In early April, Biden administration officials, including White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, were briefed on that intelligence, which was later shared with the president.
Zawahiri was located in a safe house, which US government officials investigated the construction of so that they could “confidently conduct an operation to kill” him, “without threatening the structural integrity of the building, while minimizing the risk to civilians and the Zawahiri family .
The official explained that “only a very small and select group of officials at key agencies were brought into the process and the deliberations at the early stage” and briefed on the developing intelligence.
“The president convened over the course of the last few weeks several meetings with his key advisers and cabinet members to carefully scrutinize the intelligence and evaluate the best course of action for targeting Zawahri,” the official explained, noting that Biden received updated on the developments of the targets throughout May and June.
On July 1, Biden was briefed on a proposed operation in the White House Situation Room by key members of his Cabinet—including CIA Director William Burns, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and National Counterterrorism Center Director Christine Abuzaid, as well as other national security officials.
“The president was, as always, deeply engaged in the briefing and immersed in the intelligence. He asked detailed questions about what we knew and how we knew,” the official explained, noting that the president sought explanations of “lighting, of weather, of construction materials and of other factors that could influence the success of this operation and reduce the risk of civilian casualties.”
“He was particularly focused on ensuring that every step had been taken to ensure the operation would minimize that risk and he wanted to understand the basis upon which we had confidence in our assessment,” the official continued.
Biden then directed the intelligence community to prepare a series of impact analyzes that he could fully understand, and directed that the US government be “prepared to manage the ramifications of the strike in the region and beyond.”
Biden and officials put multiple times in person in the White House Situation Room over the course of June and July to “pressure test” the intelligence.
The official explained that interagency lawyers examined the intelligence reporting as well to confirm “the legal basis for the operation.”
“They confirmed that Zawahiri was a lawful target based on his continuing leadership role in al Qaeda and his participation and operational support for al Qaeda attacks,” the official said.
President Biden authorized the air strike on July 25 at the conclusion of a meeting with officials.
The official said the president asked for “each participants’ view,” and said “all strongly recommended approval of this target.”
“At the conclusion of the meeting, the president authorized a precise, tailored air strike on the condition that a strike minimizes, to the greatest extent possible, the risk of civilian casualties,” the official explained, noting that meant the government could conduct a strike “once an opportunity was available.”
On July 30, the strike was carried out by unmanned aerial vehicles. Two hellfire missiles were fired at Zawahiri, and he was killed.
“We are confident through our intelligence sources and methods, including multiple streams of intelligence, that we killed Zawahiri and no other individual,” the official said, noting that members of his family were present “in other parts of the safe house at the time of the strike and were purposefully not targeted and were unharmed.”
“We have no indication that civilians were harmed in the strike,” the official said.
“Zawahiri’s death deals a significant blow to al Qaeda and will degrade the group’s ability to operate, including against the US homeland,” the official explained. “This action keeps faith with the president’s solemn pledge to protect Americans from terrorist threats, including threats that might emerge from Afghanistan.”
The Biden administration closed the US Embassy in Kabul and withdrew all military assets from Afghanistan on Aug. 31, 2021, ending the United States’ longest war.
“Even as the president ended two decades of war in Afghanistan by getting American servicemen and women out of harm’s way there, he promised that we would establish a capacity from outside the country to identify and address terrorist threats to Americans,” the official said. “He made good on that with this action, as US forces showed extraordinary capacity to build an intelligence picture on the world’s most-wanted terrorists, and then take precise action to remove him from the battlefield.”
The official added that the president’s decision “has made the world a safer place and brought an additional measure of closure for all of us who mourn the victims of 9/11 and other al Qaeda violence.”
The official Twitter account of the Spokesman of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban, posted that an “air strike was carried out on a residential house in Sherpur area of Kabul city. The nature of the incident was not revealed at first. “
The spokesperson condemned the strike.
“The security and intelligence agencies of the Islamic Emirate investigated the incident and found that the attack was carried out by American drones,” the spokesperson wrote. “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan strongly condemns this attack on any pretext and calls it a clear violation of international principles and the Doha Agreement.”
The Taliban spokesperson added: “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.”
“Repeating such actions will damage the available opportunities,” the spokesperson said.
A senior Biden administration official said the US government “did not alert the Taliban that we were going to take this strike.”
President Biden, last year, defended pulling out of Afghanistan by claiming al Qaeda was gone.
“What interest do we have in Afghanistan at this point with al Qaeda gone?” Biden said on Aug. 20, 2021. “We went to Afghanistan for the express purpose of getting rid of al Qaeda in Afghanistan, as well as — as well as getting Osama bin Laden. And we did.”
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But Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, last September, warned lawmakers that terror groups like al Qaeda may be able to grow much faster following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, at the time, said that the focus of continued US military efforts in Afghanistan would be countering terrorist threats, not the Taliban. Austin said the US would “keep an eye on” al Qaeda, the extremist network whose use of Afghanistan as a haven for planning the 9/11 attacks on the United States was the reason US forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001.
Ayman Al Zawahiri appeared in a video last year commemorating 20 years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks despite rumors that he died months earlier.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney told Fox News Digital in reaction to the news of the operation “It’s good that we got him, I’ve been out of the business for many years, so I am waiting to learn all the facts.”
Cheney served under former President George W. Bush, whose administration led the Global War on Terror after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Fox News’ Andrew Murray and Jon Brown contributed to this report.