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Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri’s killed in a US drone strike in Kabul, announces Biden

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Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri’s killing in a US drone strike in the Afghan capital of Kabul highlights the Taliban setup’s complete failure in delivering on its counter-terrorism guarantees in the Doha Agreement of 2020. US President Joe Biden announced on Tuesday that Zawahiri, 71, was killed in a “precision strike” in downtown Kabul on Saturday. Biden said US intelligence located the Egypt-born physician earlier this year and that he approved the strike a week ago.


For years after the killing of former al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad in May 2011, reports had said that Zawahiri was based in Afghanistan, where the Taliban has forged especially close ties with the fighters and leaders of the terrorist network. Some reports also suggested that Zawahiri was based in areas along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

The Doha Agreement, the flawed pact that paved the way for the Taliban’s return to power in August 2021, contains very specific counter-terrorism guarantees that enjoin the Taliban to act against groups such as al-Qaeda. The agreement states that the Taliban “will not allow any of its members, other individuals or groups, including al-Qa’ida, to use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies”. Under the agreement, the Taliban is required to “send a clear message that those who pose a threat to the security of the United States and its allies have no place in Afghanistan, and will instruct members of...the Taliban not to cooperate with groups or individuals threatening the security of the United States and its allies”.


Following the airstrike that targeted the al-Qaeda chief with Hellfire missiles, an unnamed US administration official told the media that senior figures of the Haqqani Network, the main fighting arm of the Taliban, were aware of Zawahiri’s presence in Kabul in “clear violation of the Doha Agreement” and even took steps to conceal his presence after Saturday’s drone strike.

The US official said the Haqqani Network restricted access to Zawahiri’s safe house and rapidly relocated members of his family, including his daughter and her children, according to CNN. The US also did not alert the Taliban before the drone strike, reflecting the continuing lack of trust in the current setup in Kabul. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid, in a set of tweets posted before Biden’s announcement, strongly condemned the drone strike and described it as “a clear violation of international principles and the Doha Agreement”.

Along with other members of the world community, India has repeatedly demanded that the Taliban should deliver on counter-terrorism commitments contained in UN Security Council resolution 2593, which states “Afghan territory [should] not be used to threaten or attack any country or to shelter or train terrorists, or to plan or to finance terrorist acts, and reiterates the importance of combating terrorism in Afghanistan, including [against UN-designated] individuals and entities”.


Despite these commitments, several reports have pointed to the free run enjoyed by al-Qaeda and its leaders such as Zawahiri in Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover last year. A report from the UN sanctions monitoring team issued on July 15 this year said al-Qaeda’s senior leadership “enjoyed a more settled period in early 2022” in Afghanistan and Zawahiri “issued regular video messages that provided almost current proof of life”.

“Member States note that al-Zawahiri’s apparent increased comfort and ability to communicate has coincided with the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan and the consolidation of power of key Al-Qaida allies within their de facto administration,” the report said.

Among the latest messages issued by Zawahiri was a nearly nine-minute video put out in April this year that saw the al-Qaeda leader raking up the hijab controversy in Karnataka and calling on Muslims in the subcontinent to counter a so-called assault on Islam.


(Except for the headline and the pictorial description, this story has not been edited by THE DEN staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)