(Washington Examiner) President Joe Biden marked the death of al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri, the successor of Osama bin Laden, with a somber address to the nation nearly a year after U.S. troops withdrew from Afghanistan after two decades of war.
“Now, justice has been delivered,” Biden said. “This terrorist leader is no more.”
“We make it clear again tonight that no matter how long it takes, no matter where you hide, if you are a threat to our people, the United States will find you and take you out,” the president said.
Al Zawahiri, one of the 9/11 masterminds, died Sunday morning Afghanistan time after the United States conducted a “precision” drone strike on his safe house in Kabul, the president said. He credited the U.S. with “relentlessly seeking” al Zawahiri under the previous three administrations before he took office.
“After carefully considering the clear and convincing evidence of his location, I authorized a precision strike that would remove him from the battlefield — once and for all,” Biden said. “One week ago, after being advised that the conditions were optimal, I gave the final approval to go get him, and the mission was a success.”
“None of his family members were hurt, and there were no civilian causalities,” Biden continued. “I’m sharing this news with the American people now after confirming the mission’s total success through the painstaking work of our counterterrorism community and key allies and partners.”
This did not include the Taliban, which denounced the strike as a violation of the withdrawal agreement. The Biden administration told reporters that Taliban leaders knew al Zawahiri was in Afghanistan during a briefing before the president spoke.
The operation has been perceived as a short-term win for so-called over-the-horizon counterterrorism capabilities, or gathering intelligence and conducting strikes without having the U.S. military in the country. Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal raised concerns about the lack of in-country surveillance and the potential for future threats. There are no known strikes in Afghanistan between the withdrawal and al Zawahiri’s killing.
“As President Biden has consistently said, we will not allow Afghanistan to become a safe haven for terrorists,” a senior administration official briefed the news media before Biden’s prime-time remarks. “The president’s decision has made the world a safer place and brought an additional measure of closure for all of us to mourn the victims of 9/11.”
“When I ended our military mission in Afghanistan almost a year ago, I made the decision that after 20 years of war, the United States no longer needed thousands of boots on the ground in Afghanistan to protect America from terrorists who seek to do us harm,” Biden said on Monday night. “And I made a promise to the American people that we continue to conduct effective counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan and beyond. We’ve done just that.”
The president also implicated al Zawahiri in the attacks on the USS Cole as well as American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. “He carved a trail of murder and violence against American citizens, American service members, American diplomats, and American interests,” Biden said.
Biden spoke from the White House Blue Room’s balcony to a small group of reporters and TV crews — COVID-19 mitigation strategies reintroduced last weekend after the president retested positive for the virus.
He paid tribute to those who died on 9/11. “We will never forget. … No day shall erase them from the memory of time,” Biden said.