US operation kills Al Qaeda's top leader, who has led the terror group since bin Laden was killed in 2011

US operation kills Al Qaeda's top leader, who has led the terror group since bin Laden was killed in 2011
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Deceased al-Qaida leader appearing on laptop screen
Deceased al-Qaida leader appearing on laptop screen

Ayman al-Zawahiri.AP Photo/B.K.Bangash

  • The leader of Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was killed in a US drone strike in Afghanistan.

  • The strike took place over the weekend in Kabul, Politico and the AP reported.

  • President Joe Biden will speak about the operation Monday night.

The leader of Al Qaeda has been killed by a US drone strike in the Afghan capital of Kabul, according to news reports on Monday.

In a statement reported by Politico, a Biden administration official said that over the weekend, "the United States conducted a counterterrorism operation against a significant al Qaeda target in Afghanistan."

A person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press that the target was Ayman al-Zawahiri. The FBI had listed al-Zawahiri, 71, as a "most wanted terrorist," with a reward of up to $25 million for information leading to his apprehension or conviction.

Al-Zawahiri, who was born in Egypt, was Osama bin Laden's No. 2. He became Al Qaeda's leader after Navy SEALs killed bin Laden in a raid in 2011. National security experts said al-Zawahiri lacked the charisma of bin Laden and wasn't as effective as a leader.

According to the FBI, al-Zawahiri was a doctor and the founder of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, a militant group that merged with Al Qaeda in 1998. He was indicted in the August 7, 1998, bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

After the 9/11 terror attacks, as bin Laden took on a less visible role within Al Qaeda, al-Zawahiri emerged as the behind-the-scenes operative of the terror group, according to The Washington Post.

"Zawahiri is used to dominating from behind the scenes," Jarret Brachman, the research director at the Combating Terrorism Center at the US Military Academy at West Point, told The Washington Post in 2006. "In my opinion, he's sort of like the Dick Cheney of al-Qaeda."

The news of al-Zawahiri's death comes nearly one year after the US withdrew its troops from Afghanistan following two decades of war, an event that coincided with the Taliban regaining control of the country.

At the time, Biden declared the war in Afghanistan was over, though he also said the US would maintain the fight against terror groups in the country — just without boots on the ground. The president signaled that the US would continue to target terrorists with drones and airstrikes, as part of an "over-the-horizon" strategy. Critics said this was a sign that the war wasn't really over, despite Biden's claims to the contrary.

"The likelihood is that the Taliban will provide a safe haven for terrorists in Afghanistan, which means that this war is not over," Leon Panetta, who served as both CIA director and defense secretary during the Obama administration, said in an interview with MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell last year.

Though the Biden administration said there were no civilian casualties in the operation that killed al-Zawahiri, human-rights groups have expressed concerns that Biden's over-the-horizon strategy for continuing to go after terror groups without boots on the ground may lead to more civilian deaths.

"I'm definitely concerned that the Biden administration's 'over-the-horizon' approach will result in more civilian casualties because the accuracy of drone strikes depends heavily on the quality of intelligence, and if the US does not have an actual presence in Afghanistan, it's hard to see how it can determine whether the information it's getting from any supposed partners on the ground is reliable," Daphne Eviatar, Amnesty International USA's director of security with human rights, told Insider in September.

Read the original article on Business Insider