WASHINGTON — America killed the highest chief of Al Qaeda, a key plotter of the Sept. 11 assaults, in a drone strike in Afghanistan over the weekend, in response to present and former U.S. officers.
Ayman al-Zawahri, who took over the management of the group after the loss of life of Osama bin Laden, was killed within the strike in Kabul, the primary assault in Afghanistan since American forces left final yr and a big victory for the Biden administration’s counterterrorism efforts.
Mr. Zawahri was the No. 2 in Al Qaeda on Sept. 11, and American officers thought-about him a central plotter of the assaults. Whereas he lacked the charismatic management of Bin Laden, he profoundly formed Al Qaeda and its terrorist actions together with his writing and arguments.
U.S. officers mentioned the strike was not performed by the navy. A former official mentioned the operation was carried out by the C.I.A. Company officers declined to remark.
A senior administration official mentioned that the operation was profitable and that there have been no civilian casualties. The White Home was anticipated to temporary reporters later Monday night time, a second administration official mentioned.
“The strike that killed Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahri is a serious success of U.S. counterterrorism efforts. A results of numerous hours of intelligence assortment over a few years,” mentioned Mick Mulroy, a former C.I.A. officer and senior Pentagon official. “He doubtless believed we’d by no means have the ability to observe him down. However he was flawed.”
Mr. Zawahri had averted Afghanistan for years. His return to Kabul with the Taliban takeover raises questions concerning the group’s dedication to retaining Al Qaeda overseas.
With the autumn of the Afghan authorities to the Taliban, the C.I.A. started a secret effort to redouble efforts to search out Mr. Zawahri, guessing that the Taliban’s return to energy would trigger him to let down his guard, in response to an individual briefed on the hassle.
A statement from the Taliban condemned the operation and mentioned the strike was performed on a residential home in Kabul’s Sherpur space, a rich downtown neighborhood that officers from the Taliban authorities have frequented. An investigation by Taliban authorities concluded that the assault was carried out by American drones, the assertion mentioned, although it offered no proof to assist the claims.
Taliban officers consider the Doha settlement — which outlined the phrases for the American troop withdrawal from Afghanistan — prohibits American strikes, one thing U.S. officers dispute. Residents in Kabul blamed Pakistan for presumably serving to with the airstrike.
In keeping with one American analyst, the home that was struck was owned by a high aide to Sirajuddin Haqqani, a senior official within the Taliban authorities whom American officers say is near senior Qaeda figures.
The analyst mentioned footage of the strike posted on social media recommended a strike by an RX9, a hellfire missile armed with lengthy blades aimed toward killing targets with kinetic vitality to attenuate main collateral harm.
Within the months since the US withdrew from Afghanistan, American navy and diplomatic officers have been discussing with allies the place to reposition American forces for strikes on high-value targets in Afghanistan. This so-called over-the-horizon technique continues to be in its infancy, and talks about positioning forces in neighboring Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have proceeded slowly.
As the US was evacuating folks from Afghanistan, a drone strike primarily based on unhealthy data in Kabul killed 10 civilians. America didn’t initially acknowledge the error, doing so solely after reporting by The New York Occasions. Since then, the Pentagon and the Biden administration have been taking extra precautions to stop civilian casualties within the strikes.
Even with out close by bases, the US has loads of functionality to ship unmanned drones in addition to manned assault plane inside placing distance of Afghanistan, from land bases alongside the Persian Gulf, the Indian Ocean and even the US.
Three U.S. officers reached on Monday mentioned that the strikes weren’t carried out by the Protection Division or United States Central Command, the combatant command with duty for Afghanistan, leaving open the chance that the strike was carried out by the C.I.A. J. Todd Breasseale, the appearing Pentagon press secretary, declined to touch upon the strike.
The U.S. authorities is at the moment reviewing its coverage on drone strikes towards terrorist targets. Whereas the navy typically conducts strikes in established conflict zones, the C.I.A. carries out the operations in areas the place the US desires a measure of secrecy over its actions.
As a result of the Taliban authorities opposes any drone strikes in its territory, the US could have most popular to make use of the C.I.A. to conduct the operation.
Whereas the C.I.A. has its personal drones, it would additionally use navy drones, with authority of the strikes handing over to the company because the plane enters into airspace the place Protection Division plane usually are not approved to function.
Yaqoob Akbary contributed reporting from Kabul.