The killing of Ayman al Zawahiri, leader of the terrorist organization al Qaeda, in a residential neighborhood in Kabul, is a success of the American administration of Joe Biden, but it raises some doubts and questions as to why one of the most wanted people in the world found in the center of the capital of Afghanistan, without hiding in inaccessible and isolated places as had happened to other leaders of terrorist groups.
Al Zawahiri had been wanted for over twenty years, and his presence in Kabul was greeted with amazement and concern by international terrorism experts, although it is currently unclear whether he had any particular motives or intentions to reside in the capital of Afghanistan. An important thing to understand, however, will be what kind of contacts the al Qaeda leader had with the Taliban regime that rules the country, and whether or not he enjoyed their protection, as is likely.
Its presence also seems to indicate the Taliban’s failure to comply with the Doha agreements, which led to the withdrawal of US troops in August 2021. The agreement, signed in February 2020 by President Trump’s administration after reaching an agreement in principle, a year earlier, it provided for the complete withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, in exchange, among other things, for the commitment not to host and protect terrorist groups on Afghan territory that could plan and carry out attacks against the United States: the commitment however, it was based practically only on the trust that the United States placed in the Taliban, and little else.
According to information communicated by the American administration but confirmed by the spokesman of the Taliban regime Zabihullah Mujahid, the leader of al Qaeda was killed in a house in Kabul, in the Sherpur district, an area that during the years of the American occupation hosted rich people and delegations diplomatic, and where many Taliban leaders live today. The US media defines the home as a “safehouse”, that is, a safe house, which could, for example, be assigned to a person whom the government wants to protect.
American intelligence reported that al Zawahiri, who had been wanted for over twenty years and believed to be hiding in Pakistan, had already moved to Kabul in May, to be reunited with his family (his wife, daughter and grandchildren). Here he too would have been located because, according to an administration official in Politico, he “moved with tranquility and had the habit of looking out onto the balcony.”
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At the moment there is no confirmation that the Taliban was aware of al Zawahiri’s presence in Kabul, but the United States believes that the leader of al Quaida enjoyed at least the support of the Haqqani Network, an Afghan armed group allied with the Taliban and considered the main link between them and al Qaeda. Some elements of the Haqqani Network would have proceeded to block access to the affected house and to find a new “safe” home for members of al Zawahiri’s family, voluntarily not hit in the American targeted attack.
The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused the Taliban, who were not warned in advance of the raid, of “hosting and protecting” the leader of al Qaeda and thus violating the Doha agreements: “Faced with the inability to unwillingness to keep the commitments we have made, we will continue to support the Afghan people ». The Taliban government through an official statement instead defined the American operation as a “clear violation of the agreements and a repetition of failed experiences of the last twenty years”.
According to many commentators and experts, beyond the success of the operation, the presence of al Zawahiri in Kabul is an alarming signal for the fight against terrorism, and some even call it further proof of the mistakes made by the United States in the withdrawal of troops from ‘Afghanistan.
A year ago, President Biden had declared that the presence of al Qaeda in Afghanistan was a “closed” question, while the secretary of state Antony Blinken had played down the danger of the group. In fact, it seems that the threat is still quite real. A United Nations report at the end of July showed how the presence not only of al Qaeda but also of the Islamic State has increased in Afghanistan after the return to power of the Taliban.
And the killing of al Zawahiri also seems to show that the Taliban “will never part with al Qaeda,” as a US intelligence official told the Wall Street Journal. Lawrence Wright, a journalist and author expert on terrorism, wrote in the New Yorker that with the return of the Taliban to power, al Qaeda “regained its training ground” in Afghanistan.
The Biden administration, on the other hand, has argued that the operation is confirmation that results can be obtained in the fight against terrorism even without a physical presence in Afghanistan. In announcing the conclusion of the operation, the American president assured that Afghanistan “will not again become a safe haven for terrorists”.
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