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The assassination of al-Qaeda Zawahiri: how it happened

#assassination #alQaeda #Zawahiri #happened

Despite a $25 million bounty on his head, al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri apparently felt comfortable enough with the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan to move into a home in Kabul, where he regularly spent time outdoors on his balcony showed up.

But the US government had not given up its pursuit of one of the masterminds behind the 9/11 attacks and Osama bin Laden’s heir.

After years of tracking him down, US forces fired two Hellfire missiles from a drone flying over the Afghan capital, hitting Zawahiri’s hideout and killing him, President Joe Biden announced Monday.

US officials described an operation as meticulously planned as the one that killed Bin Laden at his hideout in Pakistan in 2011.

It was not surprising that the leader of the violent jihadist group was in Afghanistan: Analysts say that al-Qaeda has felt more at home since the Islamist hardliners Taliban regained control in August.

But finding him was still difficult.

“For several years, the US government has been aware of a network that we have identified as supporting Zawahiri,” a senior government official told reporters.

But it was only this year that US intelligence learned that his family, his wife, daughter and their children had moved to the Afghan capital.

They are being careful, the official said, and exercising “longstanding terrorist craftsmanship” to prevent anyone from pursuing them to become the al-Qaeda leader.

Despite this, Zawahiri eventually showed up and never left.

“We have repeatedly identified Zawahiri on the balcony for long periods of time,” the official said.

A plan of attack was developed in May and June. The United States constantly monitored the multi-story residence — as the official would not say — to understand the family’s life pattern.

– Detailed safehouse model –

They studied the construction of the house with the goal of hitting Zawahiri without compromising the structural integrity of the building to minimize the risk to civilians.

Defense and intelligence officials finalized the plan in June and presented it to Biden at the White House on July 1 using a detailed model of the residence as it was done before bin Laden was robbed.

Biden provided detailed questions about the structure, weather issues and the risk to civilians, the official said.

Finally, on July 25, Biden — still suffering from a bout of Covid-19 — made the decision.

It took place with key Cabinet officials attending the closing briefing, echoing the April 28, 2011 White House meeting where President Barack Obama decided to use US Special Forces to invade Pakistan and capture bin Laden.

Biden was vice president at the time, and he expressed doubts. The risk of something going wrong was high, bin Laden had not been clearly identified, and relations with Pakistan could suffer as a result, he later recalled.

However, no US troops would enter the country with Zawahiri; Zawahiri has been positively identified; and relations with the Taliban were close to nil.

At the end of the discussion on the 25th, Biden asked each participant for their opinion, as Obama had done 11 years earlier.

“Everyone strongly recommended approval of this target,” and Biden gave the green light, the official said.

The attack involved a US drone armed with two Hellfire precision-guided missiles and was launched at 6:18 am Kabul time on Sunday.

Zawahiri was “killed on the balcony,” the official said.

The rockets don’t appear to have been ordinary hellfire explosives capable of destroying the house.

– “Significant blow to Al-Qaeda” –

Obvious photos of the building show only a few windows on one floor blown out and the rest intact.

This points to the likely use of a non-explosive version of the Hellfire, the R9X, which unfolds a series of knife-like blades from its hull and shreds its target but leaves nearby people and objects intact.

The so-called “flying Ginsu” missile has been used half a dozen times or more by US forces to kill other jihadist group leaders without harming bystanders.

The official did not provide details but expressed strong confidence that Zawahiri had been killed and no others were injured.

“Zawahiri’s family members were in other parts of the safe house at the time of the strike and were intentionally not attacked and were not injured,” he said.

The official said the strike “deals a significant blow to al-Qaeda and will impair the group’s ability to act.”

“As President Biden has consistently said, we will not allow Afghanistan to become a safe haven for terrorists who could harm Americans,” the official said.

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