Biden speaks on US killing of al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri
The US drone strike that killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri on his balcony in Kabul over the weekend was the product of months of secret planning by President Biden and a tight circle of his senior advisers, who built a small scale model of Zawahiri’s Safe House for Biden to look inside the White House Situation Room as he pondered the options your choice.
Details of the strike and its plans were revealed by a senior administration official as Biden was preparing to announce Monday’s mission.
Here are the main things to know:
- The president was first informed in April that US intelligence had placed Zawahiri at a safe house in Kabul. U.S. officials have known about a network supporting the terrorist leader in the Afghan capital for months and have identified his wife, daughter, and children through multiple intelligence streams.
- The women used a terrorist “manual” that officials say was designed to prevent anyone from tracking them to Zawahiri’s location in the Kabul neighborhood. Zawahiri himself did not leave the site after his arrival this year.
- As the months passed, US officials began setting up models at the house – including Zawahiri appearing periodically on the balcony of the house for a long time.
- As officials continued to monitor his activities, a completely covert effort began to analyze the structure and structure of the building, in order to develop an operation to destroy the No. world without compromising the structural integrity of the building.
- The most important thing for Biden and members of his team is to avoid the deaths of civilians, including members of the Zawahiri family living in the building. Independent analysts from across the government were involved in identifying other occupants in the house.
- The fact that the building is located in downtown Kabul presents its own challenges as it is surrounded by a residential area. Officials have noted that their plans and communications need to be “solid” before presenting any options to Biden. And they are very wary of leaks; only a “very small and select group” of key agencies has been informed of the plans being worked on.
- As May and June continued, Biden followed developments closely. On July 1, he gathered key national security officials in the White House Situation Room to receive a briefing on a proposed operation. CIA Director Bill Burns, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, national security adviser Jake Sullivan and deputy Jon Finer, and Homeland Security adviser Liz Sherwood Randall sat around the table.
On Biden’s role in the mission: Biden was “deeply engaged in the press conference and immersed in intelligence,” a senior official said. He asked “detailed questions about what we know and how we know it.”
Of particular interest is a scale model of Zawahiri’s house that intelligence officials built and brought into the White House for the President to inspect. Biden questioned how the house could be lit by the sun, its building materials and how weather might affect any activity, the official said.
“He was particularly focused on making sure that every step was taken to ensure the operation would minimize that risk” of civilian casualties, the official said.
Biden asked his team for more information about the building’s plans and how a strike could affect it. He flew to Camp David late that afternoon.
His team remained, convening several times in the Situation Room over the ensuing weeks to finalize their plan, answer the President’s questions, and ensure that they had implemented every contingency to risk reduction.
A parallel effort by senior management lawyers is underway to examine intelligence regarding Zawahiri and establish the legal basis for this activity.
On July 25 – while he was quarantining with Covid-19 in the White House mansion – Biden brought his team together for a final briefing. He emphasized again at the “level of detail,” the official said, asking about any additional options that could minimize civilian casualties.
He asked about the layout of the house – where rooms are arranged behind windows and doors on the third floor – and the potential impact the strike would have.
And he went around his team, asking the views of each official.
Finally, he allows a “precisely tuned air strike” to take down the target.
Five days later, two Hellfire missiles were fired at the balcony of the safe house in Kabul. “Multiple streams of intelligence” confirm Zawahiri has been killed.
His family members, who were in other areas of the home, were unharmed, the official said.
Biden, still in quarantine at the White House residence with a resurgent Covid infection, was informed when the surgery began and when.