The killing of Ayman al-Zawahri in Afghanistan — the place planning for the Sept. 11 strikes started greater than twenty years in the past, the place the West as soon as appeared poised to remake a fractured nation, and the place the terrorist chief may really feel comfy once more after the Taliban takeover final summer time — speaks volumes about what America completed in a 20-year experiment. It additionally says rather a lot about the place it failed.
On one degree, it was a reminder of how little has modified. The Taliban are as soon as once more in command of the nation. They had been harboring the identified chief of Al Qaeda, simply as they had been 21 years in the past. He was comfortably established in a protected home there, so comfy that his household was close by, and he had routines to soak up the sunshine.
On one other degree, it was a reminder of how surveillance, drones and distant killing have modified the character of the hunt for the terrorist group’s management. In 2001, America’s drones had been largely nonetheless unarmed. Within the ensuing 21 years they turned armed, and the C.I.A. and the U.S. army perfected the artwork of searching what they known as high-value targets.
To get al-Zawahri took persistence — twenty years of persistence. It validated President Biden’s dedication that, even after withdrawing U.S. troops final yr, he would proceed counterterrorism operations.
Which takes the story to 1 extra lesson: If the unique goal of going into Afghanistan was working these sorts of operations — discovering the masterminds of the Sept. 11, 2001, assaults and the technology of terrorists who adopted — then possibly it was attainable to pursue the mission with out attempting to remake the nation.
However the mission morphed. President George W. Bush celebrated the primary inklings of democracy — elections — and the truth that women may go to highschool. Army items helped irrigate the fields and constructed a court docket system. For some time, America imagined it was constructing a loud, nascent democracy. However one way or the other it by no means took maintain. Drones couldn’t remake the underlying society, or rout the Taliban, who, in many alternative kinds, have at all times existed. America succeeded on the tactical, however not on the strategic. Bin Laden and al-Zawahri had been delivered to justice, however simply because the British found within the nineteenth century and the Soviets within the twentieth, the society proved far tougher to change. Al-Zawahri is gone. The Taliban nonetheless rule.