White House praises al-Zawahiri’s murder as justification for Biden’s decision to leave Afghanistan

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The White House continued on Tuesday to highlight what it said was President Joe Biden’s “success” in killing Ayman al-Zawahiri, the al-Qaeda leader involved in planning the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and said it has “undoubtedly made the United States safer.”

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan also said on TBEN’s “Good Morning America” ​​that the strike justified Biden’s controversial and chaotic withdrawal of all US troops from Afghanistan.

“It proved the president right when he said a year ago that we didn’t have to let thousands of American troops fight and die in Afghanistan in a 20-year war to endanger terrorists and defeat threats to the United States.” States,” Sullivan said.

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The White House also released a new photo showing Biden being briefed in the Situation Room on July 1 about the proposed operation by CIA Director William Burns and showing a model of the hiding place where al-Zawahiri was hiding.

A White House official confirmed to TBEN News that the closed wooden box on the table in the photo contained the scale model of the house.

President Joe Biden will meet in the White House Situation Room on July 1, 2022 with members of the CIA and national security advisers about al-Qaeda leaders and their locations. Biden announced on Monday, August 1, 2022, that al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who helped plan the 9/11 terrorist attack, was killed by a US drone strike in Kabul.

Adam Schultz/White House Photo via UPI/Shutterstock

When Biden announced the death of al-Zawahiri in a White House speech Monday, he stated that “justice has been delivered” and he and the White House said he had been careful before approving the strike that no civilians would be killed or injured.

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A US official has confirmed to TBEN News that the CIA carried out the operation.

A separate senior government official said Monday there was no indication that anyone else was injured by the two Hellfire missiles fired by a drone, missiles with rotating blades that use kinetic energy to kill, other than in large explosions, to prevent collateral damage. to limit.

But without US troops on the ground, it was unclear how the government could be sure.

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Al-Zawahiri was killed on the balcony of his hiding place in central Kabul around 9:48 p.m. on July 30, after months of planning between different sections of the counter-terrorism community, a senior government official told reporters on Monday.

Biden was first briefed on al-Zawahiri’s whereabouts in April, the official told reporters, and received updates on the target’s development in May and June.

Biden held several other meetings with his top advisers and cabinet members in the weeks that followed to carefully examine the intelligence and evaluate the best course of action, the official said.

A final meeting was held on July 25, where Biden authorized the strike.

The photo of Biden in the White House was reminiscent of a similar photo of President Barack Obama in the Situation Room watching the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

While the strike was largely welcomed by members of Congress, Republicans focused on what they call Biden’s “disastrous withdrawal” from Afghanistan, which they say has reopened the door for al-Qaeda in the country.

“President Biden deserves credit for authorizing this strike,” Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement. “But al-Zawahiri’s return to central Kabul further indicates that Afghanistan is once again becoming a thicket of terrorist activity following the president’s decision to withdraw US troops.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., demands an immediate intelligence briefing for Congress on the terrorist organization’s “possible resurgence.” Representative Mike McCaul, who is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, went so far as to say that Biden lied to the American people when he said al-Qaeda was “out” of Afghanistan last year.

Sullivan pushed back criticism of “Good Morning America” ​​and stated that the drone strike is proof that the US can continue to go after its enemies without endangering military personnel.

“There is not a single American in uniform in that country in uniform and there was no one on the ground in uniform when this attack happened and yet we were able to get Ayman al-Zawahiri off the battlefield,” Sullivan told George Stephanopoulos. “I would call that a successful, effective policy that protects our troops, protects our people and ensures that Afghanistan will not be a safe haven for terrorists.”

But questions remain about how the US will respond to the Taliban’s actions to harbor al-Zawahiri. Senior Taliban members were aware of his presence in Kabul this year, the senior government official told reporters on Monday.

The official also said that Haqqani Taliban members took action after the airstrike to hide al-Zawahiri’s presence at the location and acted swiftly to relocate al-Zawahiri’s wife, his daughter and her children to another location in accordance with with a wider effort to hide that they had lived in the safe house.

Sullivan said the US is in direct communication with the Taliban, but has not disclosed details on exactly how the Taliban will be held accountable.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday that the Taliban had “grossly” violated the Doha Agreement by harboring al-Zawahiri. In the 2020 agreement, the Taliban said they would not host al-Qaeda members.

“They have also betrayed the Afghan people and their own expressed desire for recognition and normalization with the international community,” Blinken said. “In light of the Taliban’s unwillingness or inability to deliver on their commitments, we will continue to support the Afghan people with robust humanitarian aid and will continue to advocate for the protection of their human rights, especially women and girls.”

Ben Gittleson, Trish Turner, Allison Pecorin and Sarah Kolinovsky of TBEN News contributed to this report.

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