The United States killed Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahri in a drone strike over the weekend, two people briefed on the operation told POLITICO.
Al-Zawahri was an Egyptian who took over Al-Qaeda after the U.S. killed its longtime leader, Osama bin Laden, in 2011.
Although he never achieved the household name status of his predecessor, Al-Zawahiri’s killing is nonetheless a major win for the United States in the ongoing struggle against Islamist terrorism, although Al-Qaeda is not as strong a group as it once was and other extremist outfits have gained ground.
In a statement to reporters, a senior Biden administration official said “over the weekend, the United States conducted a counterterrorism operation against a significant Al Qaeda target in Afghanistan. The operation was successful and there were no civilian casualties.”
The Senate Intelligence Committee has been briefed on the strike, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) told POLITICO.
President Joe Biden is due to give a speech about the operation later Monday. The National Security Council declined to comment.
Col. Joseph Buccino, a spokesperson for U.S. Central Command, declined to comment on the specifics of the strike.
“We have no operational information at this time,” he said.
The announcement comes nearly a year after the United States finished withdrawing from Afghanistan, the country it invaded in 2001 following the Sept. 11 attacks masterminded by bin Laden.
The Taliban militant group have taken over Afghanistan, and the United States has insisted that they do not allow their soil to be used by terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda.
“The strike that killed Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is a major success of US counter-terrorism efforts. A result of countless hours of intelligence collection over many years,” said Mick Mulroy, a former Pentagon official and retired CIA paramilitary operations officer. “The message for all Al Qaeda and its affiliates should be that the US will never relent in its mission to hold those accountable who would seek to harm the United States and its people.“
It was not immediately clear who would succeed Al-Zawahiri as the leader of the terrorist group. Al-Zawahiri, a physician, founded Egyptian Islamic Jihad, a militant group that merged with Al-Qaeda in the late 1990s. He had been indicted for his suspected role in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesperson for the Taliban, tweeted Monday that “an air strike was carried out on a residential house in Sherpur area of Kabul city.”