Biden receives kudos for 9/11 tracer drone strike. Here is the bad news.


Ayman al-Zawahiri is dead. According to the White House, the figurehead of al-Qaeda, a 9/11 plotter and successor to Osama bin Laden, was killed in a spectacularly low-key US drone strike that minimized collateral damage and would not have cause no unnecessary casualties. With this strike, America has reaffirmed its commitment to delivering justice for as long as it takes. For that, President Joe Biden and the military he commands are to be commended.

The figurehead of al-Qaeda, a 9/11 plotter and successor to Osama bin Laden, was killed in a spectacularly stealthy US drone strike.

This operation puts to rest at least some of the concerns that criticism of the president’s decision to withdraw all US military personnel from Afghanistan had raised at the time. And yet, it also revealed several new concerns about the continuing threat posed by transnational Islamist terrorism.

First, the good news: The strike that neutralized al-Zawahiri demonstrates that America’s so-called “counterterrorism over the horizon” capabilities in South Central Asia have not been dampened – at least, not entirely. This is reassuring, as the loss of US Afghan bases and on-the-ground intelligence needed to remove terrorist actors from the battlefield appears to have been crippled, perhaps fatally, following the US withdrawal.

On August 26, terrorists suspected of being affiliated with the Islamic State Khorasan network, or ISIS-K, carried out an “complex” suicide bombing outside Kabul airport, where a mass of civilians in fleeing had gathered and nearly overwhelmed the American soldiers trying to maintain order. Thirteen Americans, two British nationals and more than 100 Afghans died in this strike. In response, the United States sought to demonstrate its vaunted “beyond the horizon” capabilities, but the demonstration was disappointing. Officials later admitted that one of those strikes ended up being a “tragic mistake”, resulting in the death of an innocent aid worker who had worked with US forces and nine members of his family.

The assassination of the al-Qaeda leader involved months of planning and operational intelligence, and it served as an effective response to those who worried about America’s ability to protect its interests in the region. The location where al-Zawahiri was shot – an upscale neighborhood in the heart of Kabul, a stone’s throw from what was once the US Embassy – holds an ominous omen for the future of the global war on terror .

According to the New York Times, al-Zawahiri had returned to Afghanistan this year. He was staying in a safe house protected by senior members of the Haqqani Network, a Taliban-aligned guerrilla group with ties to Pakistani intelligence. Despite efforts by al-Zawahiri, his family and associates to conceal their whereabouts, it is likely that his whereabouts were known to Islamabad. It is almost certain that its location was known to the Taliban.

We can therefore conclude that the leader of Al-Qaeda received assurances of his safety from the Taliban government. Indeed, his remarkable residence and his decision to settle in Kabul after the return to power of the Taliban suggest that this terrorist network once again has a partner in command of a state.

While justice for al-Zawahiri is welcome, it is unlikely to do much to disrupt global Islamist terrorist operations.

While justice for al-Zawahiri is welcome, it is unlikely to do much to disrupt global Islamist terrorist operations. As Graeme Wood of The Atlantic observed, the 9/11 plotter was a “charisma black hole.” His ministerial attitude has failed to arouse the passions of would-be jihadists as do, for example, the most provocative propagandists of the Islamic State. Given al-Qaeda’s decentralization, al-Zawahiri’s death is unlikely to even disrupt its operations. Moreover, the Taliban’s support for this and other terrorist organizations represents a declaration of their intent to once again turn Afghanistan into a haven for Islamist radicals.

This may surprise even casual observers of Taliban conduct, but it contradicts the Biden administration’s rather unrealistic claims that the group had changed. “The Taliban is committed to preventing terrorist groups from using Afghanistan as a base for external operations that could threaten the United States or our allies, including Al-Qaeda and ISIS-K,” the secretary said. state Antony Blinken before a congressional committee last year.

It was absurd to think that the Taliban would look after America’s national security interests in the region, but that was the hope. Since Blinken’s optimistic view of how the Taliban would behave turned out to be wrong, we are left with more pessimistic conclusions.

As early as September, CIA Deputy Director David Cohen revealed that there were “indications” that al-Qaeda operatives were converging on Afghanistan. Defense Intelligence Agency Director Scott Berrier confirmed: “The current assessment is probably one to two years for Al-Qaeda to build some capability to at least threaten the homeland.

While Blinken reassured Americans that al-Qaeda’s power projection capabilities were “significantly degraded” from what they were 20 years ago, former CIA director Leon Panetta warned that Taliban support for the organization would reverse this trend. Al-Qaeda “will plan additional attacks against our country, as well as elsewhere”, he warned. His successor at the CIA, Acting Director Mike Morell, warned: “The reconstruction of Al-Qaeda’s attack capacity on national territory will be done quickly, in less than a year, if the States United States does not collect intelligence or take military action to prevent it.

The strike on al-Zawahiri is proof that the Biden administration has not washed its hands of Afghanistan. Indeed, the presence of the terrorist mastermind in Kabul suggests that he couldn’t even if he wanted to. Al-Qaeda once again enjoys the support and power of a state, which now finds itself inundated with American military equipment. If those who warned that this organization would be reconstituted for the purpose of carrying out terrorist attacks inside the West are right, the American mission in Afghanistan is far from over.


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