Safe house, mock drills and meticulous planning: The secret operation behind al-Zawahiri’s killing

Washington Edited By: C KrishnasaiUpdated: Aug 02, 2022, 05:34 PM IST
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Photograph:(WION Web Team)

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The US intelligence officials succeeded in tracing Zawahiri’s location to a safe house in Kabul city, then conducted several mock drills before the final operation besides constructing a small-scale model of the safe house that is placed inside the White House Situation Room for Biden to examine

Ayman al-Zawahiri has been on the radar of the United States for several years. He has been running the affairs of al-Qaeda ever since its chief Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011.

He has been in hiding for several years, successfully giving the slip to the US armed forces. Until the announcement by Joe Biden, Zawahiri had been rumoured to be in Pakistan's tribal area or in Afghanistan.

The US drone strike that killed the world’s most wanted terrorist on the balcony of his safe house in Kabul city was the result of months of meticulous planning by the counter-terrorism and intelligence officials.

Among the preparations was a small-scale model of Zawahiri’s safe house constructed by intelligence officials and placed inside the White House Situation Room for Biden to examine as he debated his options, reports CNN.

Notably, Biden wanted not to repeat the US drone strike incident 11 months ago during the chaotic US military withdrawal from Afghanistan in which 10 civilians, including seven children, had been killed.

According to the White House, during the months-long planning to carry out this weekend's strike, Biden repeatedly told his officials to ensure that no civilians, including members of Zawahiri’s family, were killed. And as per their plan, no civilians were killed or injured.

A US official privy to the developments spoke to Reuters on the condition of anonymity while disclosing on how Zawahiri was taken out.

  • The US government for several years had been aware of a network that supported Zawahiri. And following the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan last year, officials had been keeping an eye for indications of al Qaeda’s presence in the country.
  • This year, officials traced Zawahiri’s family, his wife, his daughter and her children, to a safe house in Kabul and subsequently identified Zawahiri at the same location.
  • Over several months, intelligence officials grew more confident that they had correctly identified Zawahiri at the Kabul safe house and in early April started briefing senior administration officials. Jake Sullivan, National Security Adviser, subsequently briefed President Biden.
  • “We were able to build a pattern of life through multiple independent sources of information to inform the operation,” the official said.
  • Once Zawahiri arrived at the Kabul safe house, officials were not aware of him leaving it and they identified him on its balcony — where he was ultimately struck — on multiple occasions, the official said.
  • Officials investigated the construction and nature of the safe house and scrutinized its occupants to ensure the United States could confidently conduct an operation to kill Zawahiri without threatening the structural integrity of the building and minimizing the risk to civilians and Zawahiri’s family, the official said.
  • Biden “asked detailed questions about what we knew and how we knew it” and closely examined a model of the safe house the intelligence community had built and brought to the meeting.
  • Then the president convened his key Cabinet members and advisers on July 25 for a final briefing and discuss how killing Zawahiri would affect America’s relationship with the Taliban, the official said. After soliciting views from others in the room, Biden authorised “a precise tailored air strike”.

(With inputs from agencies)