The United States conducted a drone strike that killed Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan over the weekend, President Biden announced in an address from the White House Monday evening.
“He carved a trail of murder and violence against American citizens, American service members, American diplomats and American interests,” Biden said from the balcony of the Blue Room of the White House residence, where he is currently isolating due to a reemergence of his COVID-19 infection.
“Now, justice has been delivered, and this terrorist leader is no more,” Biden said.
A senior administration official told reporters that a drone strike with Hellfire missiles was conducted Saturday night Eastern Time — Sunday morning in Kabul — that targeted and killed al-Zawahiri, who was standing on the balcony of a safe house in Kabul.
The official said that the U.S. intelligence community has “high confidence” that the person killed was al-Zawahiri.
The U.S. does not believe that other people were killed in the drone strike, the official said, noting that officials took “every possible precaution” to avoid civilian harm.
“None of his family members were hurt, and there were no civilian casualties,” Biden said, adding that he had confirmed the mission’s “total success” through consultations with the counterterrorism community, allies and partners.
The operation was months in the making. Biden gave the final authorization on July 25 — last Monday — at which time he was isolating in the White House residence, the senior administration official said, noting that it came on the strong, unanimous recommendation of his national security advisers.
The operation marks a major milestone for the U.S. Al-Zawahiri succeeded Osama bin Laden as the leader of the terror group in 2011 and helped lead the September 11, 2001, terror attacks against the U.S.
Al-Zawahiri, who was 71, had been rumored to be dead but appeared in a video on the 20th anniversary of 9/11 last year.
The Associated Press first reported that a U.S. operation had killed al-Zawahiri. It was subsequently confirmed to The Hill by a source familiar with the operation, before the White House announced the news.
The news was particularly notable coming so close to the one-year anniversary of the completion of the chaotic U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan, which ended in late August last year.
Al-Zawahiri’s killing represents a major success for the U.S. government, and Biden pointed to it as an illustration that the U.S. does not need to be engaged in combat in order to take down threats to the homeland.
“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 Americans from terrorists who seek to do us harm,” Biden said. “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 U.S. has conducted a handful of successful strikes on terrorist targets in Syria over the past year, including the strike in February that killed Islamic State leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi.
The U.S. believes al-Zawahiri’s death will deal a blow to al Qaeda’s operations and degrade the group’s ability to carry out attacks, the senior administration official said Monday.
Senior Haqqani Taliban figures were aware of al-Zawahiri’s presence in Kabul, the official said, calling it a “clear violation” of the Doha agreement brokered under the Trump administration.