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Last July 31, the United States assassinated Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, one of the ideologues of the September 11 attacks and former right hand of Osama Bin Laden. In the last few hours, a senior official revealed the behind-the-scenes of the mission that ended the terrorist’s life.
The CIA carried out the operation and, after extreme caution, they located the terrorist and his family in Kabul (Afghanistan). According to the official, it resulted from “careful, patient and persistent” work that extended over a long period of time.
“For several years, the U.S. government had been aware of a network that it assessed supported Zawahiri, and over the past year, following the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan, officials had been watching for indications of Al Qaeda’s presence in the country,” he said.
Locating the terrorist
As early as 2022, the Al Qaeda leader’s family was identified in a safe house in Kabul, and, days later, the presence of Zawahiri himself was confirmed.
“Over several months, intelligence officials grew more confident that they had correctly identified Zawahiri at the Kabul safe house and in early April started briefing senior administration officials. Jake Sullivan, National Security Advisor, subsequently briefed President Joe Biden”, the anonymous official remarked.
Once the location was pinned down, they built a “pattern of life through multiple independent sources of information to inform the operation.” However, the intention was never to harm those who lived in the house with him.
“Officials investigated the construction and nature of the safe house and scrutinized its occupants to ensure the United States could confidently conduct an operation to kill Zawahiri without threatening the structural integrity of the building and minimizing the risk to civilians and Zawahiri’s family,” the official said.
With time running out, President Joe Biden summoned meetings with key advisors and cabinet members to review the intelligence gathered and determine a course of action.
The decision was reportedly made on July 1, when CIA Director William Burns and various members of the national cabinet informed the Commander in Chief of a possible operation.
Joe Biden and the assassination of al-Zawahiri
According to reports, Biden “asked detailed questions about what we knew and how we knew it and closely examined a model of the safe house the intelligence community had built and brought to the meeting. He asked about lighting, weather, construction materials, and other factors that could affect the success of the operation”, the official said.
Next, it was time to discuss the potential legal pitfalls of the operation. “A tight circle of senior inter-agency lawyers examined the intelligence reporting and confirmed that Zawahiri was a lawful target based on his continuing leadership of Al Qaeda,” the anonymous official continued.
The decision came on July 25, when the President met with key members of his cabinet and other top advisors to receive a final briefing on the real possibility of the mission.
Finally, and after assessing all the options, Biden authorized “a targeted and precise airstrike” on the condition that civilian casualties would be minimized. “The strike was ultimately carried out at 9:48 p.m. ET (0148 GMT) on July 30 by a drone firing so-called “hellfire” missiles,” the official concluded.
Joaquín Núñez es licenciado en comunicación periodística por la Universidad Católica Argentina. Se especializa en el escenario internacional y en la política nacional norteamericana. Confeso hincha de Racing Club de Avellaneda. Contacto: firstname.lastname@example.org // Joaquín Núñez has a degree in journalistic communication from the Universidad Católica Argentina. He specializes in the international scene and national American politics. Confessed fan of Racing Club of Avellaneda. Contact: email@example.com