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Within the late spring of 2011, al-Qaida’s second in command recorded a 30-minute video eulogizing Osama bin Laden, who had simply been killed in a raid by American Special Forces.


AYMAN AL-ZAWAHIRI: (Non-English language spoken).

KELLY: Ayman al-Zawahiri had been bin Laden’s longtime deputy and was referred to as the mastermind behind the 9/11 assaults. Zawahiri was an Egyptian eye physician who remodeled right into a prime commander and spokesman for al-Qaida. And per week after that 2011 video, he would turn into its new chief.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: It’s a acquainted title. Ayman al-Zawahiri now taking on for Osama bin Laden. He is been a U.S. goal…

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Usually known as the brains behind Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri is now to imagine the management of the diffuse group that’s al-Qaida.

ROBERT SIEGEL, BYLINE: The Egyptian eye physician has served as al-Qaida’s operational commander and spokesman and was extensively seen as a logical successor.

KELLY: Zawahiri would go on to guide al-Qaida for greater than a decade, proper as much as this previous weekend, when he himself was killed by an American drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: My fellow People, on Saturday, at my route, the USA efficiently concluded an airstrike in Kabul, Afghanistan, that killed the emir of al-Qaida, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

KELLY: President Biden saying the operation Monday evening from a balcony on the White Home.


BIDEN: After relentlessly looking for Zawahiri for years beneath Presidents Bush, Obama and Trump, our intelligence group situated Zawahiri earlier this yr. He had moved to downtown Kabul to reunite with members of his instant household. After fastidiously contemplating a transparent and convincing proof of his location, I approved a precision strike that will take away him from the battlefield as soon as and for all.

KELLY: When that precision strike hit Kabul, NPR’s Steve Inskeep was there within the metropolis.

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: The primary signal of one thing occurring was the sound. Individuals woke to at the very least one early morning explosion right here, they usually started sharing photos of a multistory home with the home windows blown out.

KELLY: The home the place Zawahiri was killed was not some fortified compound hidden up within the mountains. It was a residential constructing proper in the course of Kabul.

INSKEEP: It is a home within the Sherpur neighborhood of Kabul, which is upscale, plenty of huge homes, a few of them was occupied by U.S.-backed warlords, huge blast partitions, guard towers. We drove to the realm of the focused home this morning and located Taliban fighters blocking and guarding the approaches to it. However in any other case, life gave the impression to be occurring as normal within the streets throughout. It is close to embassies. It is close to authorities buildings. And actually, the federal government intelligence headquarters is only a few minutes’ drive away from the place, based on the U.S., Zawahiri was hiding.

KELLY: CONSIDER THIS – almost 21 years after 9/11, the mastermind of the assaults has been killed. We’ll have the story of Ayman al-Zawahiri and what his loss of life means for the U.S., for Afghanistan and for America’s decadeslong struggle on terror.


KELLY: From NPR, I am Mary Louise Kelly. It is Tuesday, August 2.

It is CONSIDER THIS from NPR. When the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan final yr, the Taliban had agreed, at the very least on paper, to not shelter members of al-Qaida because it had within the ’90s. However in actuality…

JOHN KIRBY: Now, we stated a very long time in the past, a yr in the past, we knew al-Qaida was beginning to transfer again in small numbers into Afghanistan. We have been sincere about that.

KELLY: And that’s John Kirby, spokesman for the Nationwide Safety Council on the White Home, talking with NPR on Tuesday morning.

KIRBY: We additionally stated that the plan is not to hit each single al-Qaida terrorist with a missile. It is to ensure that we’re defeating these threats to our homeland, to the American individuals. Mr. Zawahiri introduced that sort of a risk, and that is why we took him out.

KELLY: Now, how lengthy Zawahiri had been in Afghanistan is unclear, however a Taliban official advised Reuters that he had beforehand been in Helmand Province within the south earlier than transferring to Kabul after the Taliban took over final yr. In response to John Kirby, U.S. intelligence might comply with his actions by following his household.

KIRBY: By monitoring the actions of his household, we have been capable of then observe his actions to reunite with them. After which as soon as we knew that they’d been reunited, we have been capable of then develop a sample of life, to look at this particular person’s conduct in order that we might, A, determine, make sure that it was, in reality, who we thought it was and, B, then develop a sample of conduct that will enable us a possibility to take a strike if and once we might.


KELLY: So what does the loss of life of Zawahiri imply for Afghanistan and for U.S. coverage within the area? Properly, we known as NPR’s nationwide safety correspondent Greg Myre and Diaa Hadid, our worldwide correspondent in Islamabad, Pakistan.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hello, Mary Louise.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Hello there.

KELLY: I began by asking them how Zawahiri might have ended up after 21 years on the run in central Kabul beneath the nostril of the Taliban.

HADID: I feel the very first thing to say is it is extremely unlikely that the Taliban did not know that Ayman Zawahiri was in Kabul. He was in an upscale space that is dominated by wealthy and highly effective Afghans. When it comes to what this strike means for Afghans, I feel it could nicely speed up some traits we have seen evolving over the previous few months, and that’s the Taliban have turn into extra hostile, extra paranoid and extra suspicious of support staff and journalists, each Afghans and foreigners. And so, for example, at the moment, as reporters rushed to the realm the place the drone had struck, they have been crushed again in some circumstances by Taliban safety forces. A few of them had their accreditation ripped up, they usually have been bodily threatened.

And I feel extra broadly, for Afghans who have been related in any method to the Western-backed authorities that preceded the Taliban, and positively those that have been related to Western militaries that have been current in Afghanistan over these previous 20 years, I feel their lives might turn into extra precarious. They’re going to be beneath extra suspicion, extra surveillance. And we’ll see within the coming days and weeks if these traits will speed up. However actually I feel the query the Taliban are asking themselves proper now’s, who tipped off the People to Zawahiri’s whereabouts?

KELLY: Completely. Properly, and to comply with on one thing you stated that this will likely make the Taliban extra paranoid, extra suspicious, does it additionally make them much more of a pariah? They have been making an attempt to achieve some worldwide legitimacy. They desperately want worldwide assist. The place does this go away issues?

HADID: It is arduous to inform, as a result of what we have seen to date is that there is a parallel effort to maintain the Taliban remoted whereas additionally not severing a tenuous lifeline to Afghans. So, for example, , the worldwide group by way of the World Meals Program and huge NGOs on the bottom are serving to about 20 million Afghans kind of keep alive there, stopping them from falling into hunger as a result of Afghanistan is within the midst of a horrible starvation disaster.

What I might say, although, that this means is that when you’ve gotten Ayman al-Zawahiri sunning himself on a balcony in Kabul, it means that the Taliban aren’t keen on making compromises for worldwide recognition. They need to do it on their phrases. And that’s one thing that now we have seen fairly clearly over the previous few months. As an example, they have not even let ladies return to secondary faculty. And that is maybe the bottom bar of the worldwide group of what they are going to settle for earlier than they will begin giving the Taliban any type of diplomatic recognition. They usually simply will not do it.

KELLY: Greg Myre, decide this up from the U.S. perspective. What particulars have you ever managed to glean on this strike, what seems to have been a remarkably exact drone strike? President Biden says there have been no civilian casualties, not even any members of the family harmed.

MYRE: Proper. That is what the president stated final evening. And we have some particulars, not lots. I imply, the fascinating half is the U.S. was apparently capable of observe Zawahiri’s household to Kabul a number of months in the past. After which as they stored an eye fixed on his household, they tracked him. He confirmed up there. Now, all kinds of questions move from this that we would wish to find out about. I imply, one level I might make is {that a} yr in the past, the U.S. talked about having this over the horizon, chance of holding terror teams in line.

KELLY: Proper, that they’d nonetheless be capable of take out terrorists even when they weren’t on the bottom contained in the nation.

MYRE: And that was brazenly mocked on the time. Individuals have been calling it the over the rainbow technique, the sense that this may not be doable to do. However the U.S. has proven, at the very least on this case, they have been capable of observe him, hit him on a balcony. The large query I’ve is, the place did this drone come from? The U.S. has no bases in Afghanistan. It does not have any bases in neighboring nations. The closest U.S. bases are within the Gulf, which is a great distance away.

KELLY: Yeah.

MYRE: U.S. officers stored speaking about learning this sample of conduct suggests the U.S. knew that he got here out onto the balcony within the morning. However to sync that up, to time that up and what seems to be a really lengthy vary drone strike is fairly exceptional simply from the technical logistical standpoint.

KELLY: After which, Greg, when it comes to the importance of this, of his loss of life for al-Qaida, for world terrorism extra broadly, which, after all, has developed means past the al-Qaida that pulled off 9/11.

MYRE: So symbolically, this can be a huge blow any time a bunch loses its chief like this. However al-Qaida actually hasn’t been all that lively, particularly when it comes to Western targets. It actually hasn’t had a significant assault within the West since Paris in 2015. And I feel the bigger message is that for the USA, worldwide Islamist extremism is simply not the precedence it was. Proper now, it is Russia’s struggle in Ukraine, and China is the massive long-term risk. Doesn’t suggest this may not change, however that is the place we’re proper now.

KELLY: Final query to each of you. Simply making an attempt to put the importance of this. Diaa, I am going to flip this to you first. We have seen 20 years of U.S.-led struggle in Afghanistan. We have seen the clearly chaotic withdrawal of U.S. forces one yr in the past. What does Zawahiri’s loss of life inform us about what the U.S. has managed to realize in that nation?

HADID: Properly, I feel it is easy to be glib about it and say that 20 years occurred as in the event that they did not occur. You recognize, the USA entered as a result of the Taliban have been sheltering Osama bin Laden. After which lower than a yr after they withdraw, the following al-Qaida chief feels assured sufficient about his safety that he steps out onto his balcony. Alternatively, the People have left clearly with some type of strong intelligence community in place, whether or not that is technological or human or statecraft when it comes to regional alliances or all three. And I am presuming, at the very least from an American safety perspective, that may be a modest achievement after 20 years within the nation. Nevertheless it simply appeared sort of poignant and unhappy.

I used to be considering at the moment about what number of Afghans desperately hoped that at the very least with the Taliban coming to energy, they may see an finish to battle. You recognize, few Afghans have any illusions about who the Taliban are, however at the very least they’d hoped for some peace and quiet. And now I am questioning what number of of them are actually staying awake at evening considering, who’re the Taliban harboring? The place are they harboring them? And are we going to get bombed once more?

KELLY: Greg?

MYRE: Yeah. I feel each this episode and the previous 20 years once more confirmed the U.S. had this unimaginable army prowess, this unimaginable technological potential. However in trendy struggle, it is usually that is not sufficient. It is extraordinarily tough, even perhaps unattainable for an out of doors nation, even an enormous, highly effective one like the USA, to enter a really poor nation like Afghanistan and remake the nation’s politics and its economic system and its tradition. So even with all this extraordinary energy that the U.S. has been capable of unleash on Afghanistan, right here we see the Taliban nonetheless in energy, Afghans dealing with a really, very bleak future.

KELLY: That was nationwide safety correspondent Greg Myre in Washington and worldwide correspondent Diaa Hadid in Islamabad. It is CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. I am Mary Louise Kelly.

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