U.S. official: Fatal strike on al-Qaida leader took months of planning

President Joe Biden (C) meets with members of the CIA and national security advisers about al-Qaida leaders and their locations on Friday. Biden announced Monday that al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who helped plot the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, was killed by a U.S. drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo by Adam Schultz/White House | License Photo

Aug. 2 (UPI) — The effort to kill al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a residential area of Kabul, Afghanistan with no apparent casualties took months of meticulous planning and then quick, lightning strike execution once the chance came around, a senior Biden administration official said.

Zawahiri, who was Osama bin Laden’s second in command during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks had successfully eluded U.S. forces for more than 20 years, according to an unnamed administration official whose comments were released by the White House on Tuesday.

U.S. intelligence built a network of operations that first identified Zawahiri’s family members and from there slowly zeroed in on the terrorist leader. The official said President Joe Biden insisted on an operation that resulted in minimal collateral damage.

Unmanned drones were used to fire rockets into Zawahiri’s residence Saturday while he stood on a balcony and his family members were in another part of the house.

The official said Taliban officials, who knew Zawahiri was there, quickly removed his family and tried to hide evidence of his presence.

“Zawahiri continued to pose an active threat to U.S. persons, interests and national security,” the official said. “As President Biden has consistently said, we will not allow Afghanistan to become a safe haven for terrorists who might bring harm to Americans.

“We met that commitment on Saturday night. And in doing so, we showed that, without American forces on the ground in Afghanistan and in harm’s way, we remain able to identify and locate even the world’s most wanted terrorist, and then take action to remove him from the battlefield.”

The official said military personnel started looking for signs that the Taliban would harbor known terrorists, which goes against its peace agreement with the United States, last year and received information that Zawahiri’s family and then that the al- Qaida leader were in Kabul.

The Taliban accused the United States of violating the peace deal for its attack on a residential neighborhood in Kabul.

Security experts said they believe the operation demonstrates that the United States is able to carry out precision attacks without boots on the ground in Afghanistan.

Zawahiri was believed to be the mastermind behind not only the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but also the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen that killed 17 U.S. sailors and the simultaneous bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed hundreds.