The successful U.S. Intelligence drone strike which killed Ayman al Zawahri, a longtime leader of al Qaeda in Kabul has also reignited debates about President Biden’s chaotic withdrawal last year from Afghanistan and whether or not the new Taliban leaders have kept a promise to end terror operations on Afghan soil.
Mr. Biden, administration officials said that the execution of the withdrawal was a success. This is because — despite widespread doubt — U.S. intelligence personnel were able track down and eliminate al-Zawahri. They did so without the use of American forces.
But some critics, including a few Republican lawmakers, stated that al-Zawahri’s inability to establish operations and evade capture so long in Afghanistan’s capital raises concerns about the country being re-emerged as a haven for al Qaeda, and other terrorist groups, such as Islamic State, since last year’s election.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stated that Mr. Biden “deserves credit for approving the mission.”
“Al-Zawahiri’s recent return to Kabul from the presidential withdrawal further suggests that Afghanistan has become a significant terrorist hub,” the Kentucky Republican stated in a statement. Although al-Zawahiri was killed, the underlying threat of al Qaeda terrorists entering Afghanistan is a real danger that could have been avoided. It is time for the administration to develop a plan that will rebuild our ability to fight it
For years, al-Zawahri topped the FBI’s most wanted list and the State Department offered a $25 million reward for information that led to his capture. He was one of the masterminds of Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and took over al Qaeda in 2011, following Osama bin Laden’s death in 2011.
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The drone attack that killed al-Zawahri occurred almost one year after U.S. troops and allied forces hastily pulled out of Afghanistan following the collapse of the U.S.-backed government in face to a Taliban offensive. This resulted in chaos and civilian casualties that ended 20 years of U.S. military engagement in Afghanistan. It also sent President Biden’s poll numbers down, something the White House was unable to reverse.
Despite the economic turmoil and inflation, Mr. Biden still has low approval ratings. 2021.
Madly required win
The death of al-Zawahri represents a crucial victory for President Biden’s foreign policy. His deteriorating fortunes have begun to turn after the Senate passage on his spending and climate bill last week. He also claims it strengthens the claim that America can continue to wage counterterrorist efforts in Afghanistan even after Taliban rule is restored.
” This is a remarkable accomplishment by President Biden who chose to withdraw U.S forces from Afghanistan and hand over control to the Taliban. He relied only on ‘over the horizon’ counterterrorism operations against al Qaeda,” stated William F. Wechsler (senior director of Atlantic Council think tank), who admitted that he doubted that far-range surveillance of terrorist threats could be done.
“But, [with alZawahri’s death], Biden’s team will go to bed tonight with a deep feeling of vindication. They will also take a well-deserved victory lap,” Mr. Wechsler stated.
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Al-Zawahri died Saturday evening when a U.S. Intelligence drone shot two Hellfire missiles at his balcony in Kabul’s al Qaeda safehouse. The strike killed him as the only victim.
Intelligence operatives have been following the Egyptian-born al Qaeda leader, updated the president every three months since April.
Speaking about Monday’s strike, Mr. Biden reiterated his belief in the U.S. being able to contain terrorist threats from Afghanistan with American troops on the ground.
” I made an agreement to the American people to continue conducting effective counterterrorism operations throughout Afghanistan.” Mr. Biden stated. We’ve accomplished just that .”
Questions and answers
But others claim that the attack raises more questions than answers. One of the most important is how al-Zawahri managed to keep a residence close to official Afghan government buildings in Kabul. It is believed that this evidence shows that the Taliban have not fulfilled their pledges to end terrorist groups in Afghanistan and that certain factions within the Taliban government might actually have maintained ties to al Qaeda after they came to power.
U.S.-led forces led bin Laden, al-Zawahri and other Taliban leaders from Kabul in the 2001 invasion in response to the September 11 attacks. They claimed that the terror leaders had been hiding at Pakistan’s lawless border separating Afghanistan from Pakistan. Bin Laden was later found and murdered in a province in Pakistan.
” The Taliban’s Afghanistan provides a refuge for al Qaeda,” stated Katherine Zimmerman of the American Enterprise Institute. “Zawahri felt more secure in the Taliban capital than his former hideout .”
Administration resisted the notion that Afghanistan is being used by Islamic terrorist groups for attacks on the U.S .
“Ask members of al Qaeda about their feelings in Afghanistan at the moment,” John Kirby, White House spokesperson for national security told reporters. “I believe we have proven.. this weekend, that it’s not a safe place and it’s not going forward .”
But, the administration also revealed evidence regarding al Qaeda’s presence and indicates that Taliban are offering sanctuary to terror group that waged war on the U.S .
White House national safety adviser Jake Sullivan stated Tuesday that Haqani Network members were informed that al-Zawahri had been in Kabul. Mr. Sullivan stated that al-Zawahri was not involved in planning the attacks against the U.S. but that he still posed a threat to the U.S .
Mr. Sullivan said that the U.S. has been in touch with Taliban to inform them of their “obligation” to not allow al Qaeda access to Afghanistan for its plotting operations.
The Doha Agreement, signed by Trump’s administration in February 2020 set out the conditions for the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Taliban agreed to a gradual withdrawal of all foreign troops in exchange for the promise not to attack American forces or allow al Qaeda and other terrorist groups to carry out attacks within Afghanistan.
Tuesday’s statement by the Taliban condemned the U.S. strike for being “a clear violation of” the Doha agreement. The U.S. countered that al-Zawahri’s sheltering by the Taliban was also in violation of Doha Agreement, justifying the strike.
Al Qaeda has been advising Taliban leaders since the U.S. vacated Afghanistan last month, according to a United Nations Security Council Report.
” The victory of the Taliban in Afghanistan has buoyed global al Qaeda as the Taliban’s blueprint for success is used by local leaders to overthrow local counterterrorism forces,” said Ms. Zimmerman.
A United Nations report showed that al Qaeda remains a threat in war-torn areas like Afghanistan, and in its neighbouring countries. However, the U.N. warned that al Qaeda could also strike in non-conflict zones.
Al Qaeda is not subject to any interference by the Taliban and some senior officials of the Taliban are offering advisory services for the Kabul government according to the report.
That same report concluded that ISIS-K, the Islamic State offshoot that carried out an attack last year near the Kabul International Airport that killed more than a dozen U.S. military personnel and more than 150 Afghan civilians, has also become increasingly active in Afghanistan.