I have the same thought now that I had when Obama announced the death of Bin Laden: “That guy was still alive?” It seemed unthinkable that he could have eluded U.S. intelligence and its high-tech toys for so many years amid a desperate global manhunt. But he did. Until he didn’t.
Zawahiri has been running for more than twice as long. He lived long enough to see the U.S. ousted from Afghanistan, in fact.
But maybe not much longer than that.
Source just told me AQ chief and bin laden successor, Ayman Zawahiri, has been smoked. Hope it’s true. Rest in pieces.
— Eli Lake (@EliLake) August 1, 2022
Why put stock in a rumor Lake heard? Because it happens to coincide with a surprise announcement from the White House:
President Biden will deliver remarks at 7:30 tonight on a “successful counterterrorism operation,” White House says. He still has Covid so this will be from the Blue Room Balcony.
— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) August 1, 2022
I don’t know of any other terrorist at this point who’s still alive, not in U.S. captivity, yet of such renown that the president himself would want to deliver the news of his demise in primetime. That’s how Obama did it with Bin Laden. It must be that Zawahiri has finally been sent to hell.
And now we wait for the big news: Where’d they find him? Who’s been harboring public enemy number one for so many years? The smart money is on Pakistan, as always. But my longshot option is that Zawahiri traveled back to Afghanistan after America’s departure and was promptly sold out by someone there, possibly the Taliban itself, in exchange for some sugar from Uncle Sam. Stand by for updates.
Update: The operation occurred “in Afghanistan,” per the AP. It can’t possibly be that Zawahiri was there for years amid the U.S. occupation without us knowing, can it?
WASHINGTON (AP) — AP source: US weekend strike in Afghanistan killed top al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri.
— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) August 1, 2022
Update: I’m straining to come up with some quickie hot take about the political ramifications of this but I’m coming up empty. Obama did get a brief bounce in his job approval after the Bin Laden strike, but it didn’t last. Dems will spend a few days high-fiving over “Dark Brandon” being a bad-ass, then everyone will move on and start worrying about inflation again.
Maybe it’ll make China think twice about doing anything rash vis-a-vis Pelosi and Taiwan? I’m not sure that a targeted assassination carries any larger lessons about the dynamics of a major war.
Update: Well, well. According to Politico, Zawahiri wasn’t just in Afghanistan. He was in Kabul, the capital, presumably at the Taliban’s invitation. I wonder if he was there to make a video gloating about America’s failure and boasting to the jihadis of the world that we’re a paper tiger. Surprise ending!
I’m not sure this news will play quite as well for Biden as it otherwise might have once Americans grasp that terrorists are once again operating in the country he withdrew from.
Update: We’ll have a better sense of whether it was a random informant or the Taliban government itself that dimed out Zawahiri based on whether Biden announces any aid packages to the new government there in the days or weeks ahead. For “humanitarian reasons,” of course.
Update: Bin Laden met his end at the hands of U.S. Special Forces. Zawahiri met his end at the business end of a missile.
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) August 1, 2022
It would have been a neat trick to insert American troops on the ground in Taliban-controlled Kabul!
Update: I hadn’t heard of Zawahiri releasing any new videos in ages but apparently he’s been cranking them out. This one is less than six months old.
— SITE Intel – Jihadist Threat (@siteintel_jt) February 8, 2022
Evidently he published one as recently as June in which he ranted about India.
Update: A little googling about mysterious explosions in Kabul over the weekend reveals this:
A rocket hit a vacant house in the Sherpur area of Afghanistan’s capital Kabul on Sunday, no causalities were reported, the Ministry of Interior said…
Taking to Twitter, Tolo News said, “But the ministry does not give details about the nature and location of this explosion. On the other hand, some residents of the capital say that they heard the sound of several explosions in various parts of Kabul.”
Earlier in the day, Tolo News reported that an explosion was heard in the Dehmazang area of Kabul city. And at that time the security officials have not said anything about this.
Maybe the U.S. had info that Zawahiri was set to visit multiple locations and hit them all, not knowing where he’d be at a given moment.
Update: Now we’re talking. I missed this news at the State Department website from just a few days ago:
On July 27, Special Representative for Afghanistan Thomas West and Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson led a senior interagency delegation from the Department of State and the Department of the Treasury to continue discussions with senior Taliban representatives and technocratic professionals in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. The meetings took place after the conclusion of the Uzbekistan-hosted Tashkent Conference on Afghanistan on July 26.
The United States expressed the need to address the urgent humanitarian situation in Afghanistan. The two sides discussed ongoing efforts to enable the $3.5 billion in licensed Afghan central bank reserves to be used for the benefit of the Afghan people. The United States underscored the need to accelerate the work on these efforts.
Did the Taliban give us Zawahiri’s location in exchange for aid? No honor among thieves.
Update: From the Times: “According to one American analyst, the house that was struck was owned by a top aide to Sirajuddin Haqqani, a senior official in the Taliban government whom American officials say is close to senior Qaeda figures.”
And here’s your feelgood detail of the day: “The analyst said pictures of the strike posted on social media suggested a strike by an RX9, a hellfire missile armed with long blades aimed at killing targets with kinetic energy to minimize major collateral damage.” I wrote about that missile, which is known colloquially as “The Flying Ginsu” or “Ninja Bomb,” a few years ago. The CIA basically put Zawahiri in a blender.