US intel located Zawahiri after he moved from Pak to Taliban-supported safe house in Kabul:US media
- United States
US intelligence located reclusive al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri earlier this year in Afghanistan after he moved from Pakistan to a Taliban-supported safe house in a posh locality in downtown Kabul, the US media reported on Tuesday.
US President Joe Biden on Monday announced that Zawahiri, who assumed the leadership of al-Qaeda after the death of Osama bin Laden, was killed in a CIA drone strike on Saturday at a house in Kabul where he was sheltering to reunite with his family, declaring that ''justice has been delivered and this terrorist is no more".
The 71-year-old Egyptian surgeon, who had a USD 25 million bounty on his head, was bin Laden's second-in-command during the 9/11 attacks and took over as the head of al-Qaeda after his death. He remained a visible international symbol of the terror group, 11 years after the US killed bin Laden during a raid in Pakistan's Abbottabad in 2011.
After relentlessly seeking Zawahiri for years, the US intelligence community located him earlier this year.
US intelligence officials had determined that Zawahiri had moved from Pakistan to a Taliban-supported safe house in downtown Kabul. Zawahiri's wife and children had relocated there first, officials said. As US intelligence officials monitored them, they learned Zawahiri had joined his family, NBC News reported.
Once Zawahiri arrived at the safe house he never left, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters Monday on the operation.
Zawahiri was long believed to have been living in Pakistan. That he was killed in Kabul is a testament to not only the porous border between the two countries but also to al-Qaeda's decades-long use of facilities, houses, buildings and compounds throughout both countries, The New York Times quoted an official as saying.
And unlike the relatively sleepy city of Abbottabad, Pakistan, where bin Laden was killed by a commando raid in 2011, his successor apparently spent the last weeks of his life right smack in the Afghan capital, the report said.
US authorities spent months identifying a "pattern of life," tracking his daily habits to avoid civilian casualties, the report said.
Intelligence officials created a model of Zawahiri's safe house and used it to brief Biden on the risk to civilians, the senior administration official added. They tried to minimize risk to civilians by not threatening the integrity of the structure during the planned strike.
Asked whether Biden would have tolerated even a few civilian casualties, an administration official said there was no reason to expect any. The strike was so precise that it killed Zawahiri on a balcony without harming family members elsewhere in the house, the official said.
Biden was shown the model of the safe house during a Situation Room meeting on July 1 that included CIA Director William Burns, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, and Christine Abizaid, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center.
On July 25, Biden convened relevant Cabinet officials and aides. He was briefed on a potential operation by this broader group of national security officials in the Situation Room. At the end of the meeting, Biden authorized the airstrike to target Zawahiri. His sign-off allowed intelligence officials to take out al Zawahiri when they determined the time was optimal.
Zawahiri was killed in a drone strike at 6:18 a.m. local time Saturday, July 30. Two Hellfire missiles were fired at him while he was on the balcony of the safe house, the official said, adding that no civilians or family members of Zawahiri were killed in the attack. The Haqqani faction of the Taliban whisked the family away after the attack, the official said.
Zawahiri's killing "raised immediate questions" about the terrorist leader's presence in Afghanistan a year after Biden withdrew American forces from the war-torn country, "clearing the way for the Taliban to recapture control of the country," the New York Times reported.
Zawahiri moved back to Afghanistan earlier this year, evidently believing he would be safe there, the NYT quoted officials as saying.
However, the NYT report quoted an American official as saying that Zawahiri's presence in Kabul was a "clear violation" of the agreement over the American withdrawal from Afghanistan by former President Donald Trump and later accepted by Biden that the Taliban would not provide safe haven for al-Qaeda to launch further attacks against Americans.
Former president Donald Trump's envoy who negotiated the original withdrawal agreement Zalmay Khalilzad called the strike a validation of the rationale for pulling out. "In this case, over the horizon worked," he said. He called the strike proof that "we can protect our interest against terror threats in Afghanistan without a large and expensive military presence there." PTI AKJ/YAS ZH ZH
(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)