It’s difficult to even try to assess the number of innocent civilians Ayman al-Zawahiri was responsible for killing. After all, we’re talking about a man who helped plan the 9/11 attacks. And the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. And the attack on the USS Cole. And the Egyptian embassy in Pakistan. And on and on.
There’s a reason al-Zawahiri rose to the top of the FBI’s list of the world’s most wanted terrorists. Last night, however, that most-wanted list was changed — to reflect his demise. NBC News reported:
President Joe Biden announced Monday night that a U.S. counterterrorism operation over the weekend in Afghanistan killed top Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, one of the plotters behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“Justice has been delivered — and this terrorist leader is no more,” Biden said in a national address, speaking from a White House balcony. “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.”
Though al-Zawahiri’s name may not be familiar to much of the public — he did not maintain nearly as high a public profile as Osama bin Laden — the terrorist has led al Qaeda since U.S. forces killed bin Laden in 2011. As the president added last night, “After relentlessly seeking Zawahiri for years under Presidents Bush, Obama, and Trump, our intelligence community located Zawahiri earlier this year. He had moved to downtown Kabul to reunite with members of his immediate family.”
Biden ordered the strike that took place on Saturday night, and according to administration officials, no civilians or family members of al-Zawahiri were killed in the attack.
It’s also worth emphasizing that this mission was possible despite the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan: An administration official confirmed to reporters last night that there was no U.S. personnel on the ground in Kabul as part of the operation.
All of this came roughly six months after Biden also announced a successful U.S. counterterrorism operation in northwestern Syria, conducted by U.S. special forces, which led to the death of ISIS’s top leader, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi.
It also came nearly three years after Donald Trump delivered comments in the White House about his administration’s top counter-terrorism success: An October 2019 raid that led to the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Of course, the differences between the two American presidents were accentuated by their announcements. Last night, Biden spoke carefully and briefly, summarizing the importance of the mission and its success.
As regular readers may recall, in 2019, Trump delivered rambling comments to 48 minutes, during which time the Republican needlessly shared sensitive operational details, made multiple canine references for reasons that were not at all clear, took the time to praise a far-right media network, made self-aggrandizing claims for no reason, and lied rather brazenly about his own record.
We learned soon after that the 2019 mission was a success “largely in spite of, and not because of,” Trump’s actions. He spent subsequent months downplaying bin Laden’s importance and emphasizing how impressed he was with his own record.
If the former president scrambles today to downplay the Biden administration’s latest counterterrorism victory, it’s probably worth keeping these details in mind.