The United States killed Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri, one of the world's most wanted terrorists, in a drone strike in Kabul that has delivered the militants their biggest setback since Osama bin Laden was killed more than a decade ago.
Sources told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi on August 2 that the area around the house in a quiet Kabul district where the drone strike occurred has been cordoned off, a day after U.S. President Joe Biden announced the strike that killed Zawahri. There were no other casualties, Biden said.
U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Zawahri was killed when he came out on the balcony of his safe house in Kabul.
A source told Radio Azadi that the residence was a guesthouse of Taliban-installed Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani and that the minister, along with the Taliban's defense minister, Mullah Yaqoob Mujahid, were the only two high-ranking officials to periodically visit the home.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Taliban had "grossly violated" the Doha Agreement between the two sides by hosting and sheltering Zawahri.
The 2020 Doha Agreement, signed by the Taliban and Washington, paved the way for international troops to leave Afghanistan in August 2021. The militants had pledged that once troops left, Afghanistan would not be a harbor for Al-Qaeda.
White House national-security spokesman John Kirby told MSNBC in an interview on August 2 that there was a small Al-Qaeda presence remaining in Afghanistan.
"We are still going to stay vigilant. We're still going to stay capable," Kirby said, adding that the United States had the capability to conduct a counterterrorism strike from afar.
The sheltering of Zawahri is likely to intensify global scrutiny of Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers and further undermine their efforts to secure international recognition and desperately needed aid.
Biden said U.S. intelligence officials tracked Zawahri to the house through months of painstaking research and observation. The president said he approved the operation last week and that it was carried out by the CIA on July 31.
Biden said that none of Zawahri's family members was hurt and there were no civilian casualties.
Zawahri, 71, oversaw the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, alongside Osama bin Laden, founder of Al-Qaeda. Bin Laden and Zawahri escaped U.S. forces in Afghanistan in late 2001, and Zawahri’s whereabouts had long been unknown.
Zawahri took over as leader of Al-Qaeda after bin Laden was killed in a raid by U.S. forces in Pakistan in 2011.
He was the key ideologue behind Al-Qaeda's global terror network for several decades and had central roles in Al-Qaeda's attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 three years prior to the September 11 attacks that killed almost 3,000 people.
Zawahri's killing will bring closure to families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks, Biden added.
"No matter how long it takes, no matter where you hide, if you are a threat to our people, the United States will find you and take you out," said Biden, adding, "We shall never waver from defending our nation and its people."
There had been rumors of Zawahri's death several times in recent years, and he was long reported to have been in poor health.
David Petraeus, a former director of the CIA, said the fact that Zawahri was in Kabul indicates that the Taliban "didn't learn a lesson" after providing safe harbor to bin Laden during the time they ruled in Afghanistan in the late 1990s.
“It does reflect the continuing close relationship that clearly still exists between Al-Qaeda and the Taliban," Petraeus said on CNN.
The drone attack is the first known U.S. strike inside Afghanistan since U.S. troops and diplomats left the country in August 2021.