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Two Presidents, Two Al-Qaeda Leaders & Similar Strikes: How US Followed Bin Laden's Blueprint to Kill Ayman al-Zawahiri

By: News Desk

Edited By: Majid Alam


Last Updated: August 02, 2022, 13:01 IST

New Delhi, India

File photo of US Presidents Barack Obama and Joe Biden. (News18)

File photo of US Presidents Barack Obama and Joe Biden. (News18)

Osama bin was killed in a dramatic night-time raid by US helicopters and troops on his hideout in Abbottabad in Pakistan in 2011

The US announced killing Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, one of the world’s most wanted terrorists and a mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks, in a drone strike in Kabul.

A senior US official said Zawahiri was on the balcony of a house in Kabul when he was targeted with two Hellfire missiles, an hour after sunrise on July 31, and that there had been no US boots on the ground in Afghanistan. Biden said he gave the final go-ahead for the high-precision strike and said justice has been delivered.

Despite a $25 million US bounty on his head, Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was apparently hiding in Afghanistan at a home in Kabul following Taliban’s takeover. However, the US government had not given up its pursuit of one of the planners of the September 11, 2001 attacks and the heir to Osama bin Laden.

The officials described the operation as meticulously planned as that which killed bin Laden in his Pakistan hideout in 2011.


Death in a Similar Fashion to Laden

The missile attack to kill the Al-Qaeda chief was similar to the operation to eliminate Osama bin Laden. Laden, the Al-Qaeda commander, was killed in a dramatic night-time raid by US helicopters and troops on his hideout in Abbottabad near Pakistani capital, Islamabad in 2011.

Bin Laden had been living in seclusion for at least five years in Abbottabad before he was killed in a firefight, shot in the head, following which his body was recovered and buried at sea.

However, this time the strike was carried out without any ground support. The strike involved a US drone, armed with two precision-guided Hellfire missiles, which were launched at 6:18 am Sunday, Kabul time.

The missiles appear not to have been ordinary Hellfires, whose high explosives could have destroyed the home. The post-strike photographs of the building showed only a few windows on one floor blown out, and the rest intact.

Obama said that no civilian was killed in the strike and there were no deaths among the family members.

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

Two Democrat Presidents

In 2011, President Barack Obama announced Osama bin Laden in a military operation in Afghanistan.

In a televised address, the US President said, “It was nearly 10 years ago that a bright September day was darkened by the worst attack on the American people in our history. The images of 9/11 are seared into our national memory… Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability… After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.”

Obama invoked the horrors of the 9/11 attacks and reiterated that revenge has been taken.

“We’ve disrupted terrorist attacks and strengthened our homeland defense… And around the globe, we worked with our friends and allies to capture or kill scores of al Qaeda terrorists, including several who were a part of the 9/11 plot,” Obama added.

On the other hand, announcing the death of the second al-Qaida leader, President Joe Biden in a televised address said, “This terrorist leader is no more… He will never again, never again, allow Afghanistan to become a terrorist safe haven because he is gone and we’re going to make sure that nothing else happens.”

He expressed hope that the killing of the al-Qaida leader brings “one more measure of closure" to families of the victims of September 11, 2001, attacks on the US.

Obama got a second term as a Democrat President in 2012 and a significant credit for the success goes to the killing of Bin Laden in 2011.

Biden, who has been witnessing wavering support, especially post Covid-19 pandemic, would also look to carry out the success to make way for a second term.

Tactical Operation in Afghanistan

The missile attack to kill Zawahiri was carried out a time when the US had already withdrawn its troops from Afghanistan in 2021 following Taliban takeover.

The attack was to be carried out through missile with no ground support. Therefore, the security officials studied the construction of the home, aiming to hit Zawahiri without threatening the building’s structural integrity and minimize risk to civilians.

Defence and intelligence officials finalized the plan in June and presented it to Biden in the White House on July 1, using a detailed model of the residence, as was done before the bin Laden raid. Biden asked detailed questions on the structure, weather issues, and the risk to civilians, the official said.

Finally, on July 25, Biden, still ill with Covid-19, made the decision. It took place with key cabinet officials joining the final briefing, like in April, 2011 White House meeting where president Barack Obama decided to deploy US special operations troops to enter Pakistan and get bin Laden.

At that time Biden was vice president, and he expressed doubts. The risks of things going wrong were high, bin Laden had not been clearly identified, and relations with Pakistan could be at stake.

With Zawahiri, however, no US troops would enter the country; Zawahiri was clearly identified; and relations with the Taliban were next to nil. At the end of the discussion, Biden like Obama asked each participant for their view.

(With inputs from AFP)

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first published:August 02, 2022, 09:50 IST
last updated:August 02, 2022, 13:01 IST