Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was living in downtown Kabul with members of his immediate family when he was tracked down and killed by a U.S. drone strike in a counterterrorism operation over the weekend.
According to President Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan, the White House is communicating with the Taliban about their knowledge of al-Zawahiri’s location and looking into whether they were sheltering him in Afghanistan.
“We do believe that senior members of the Haqqani network, which is associated with the Taliban, knew that Zawahiri was in Kabul,” Sullivan told “CBS Mornings.” “There may have been other members who didn’t. And we are communicating directly with the Taliban about their obligations not to allow al Qaeda to use Afghanistan as a base for plotting.”
He added, “We’re not obviously just going to take their word for it. We proved that this weekend by taking out Ayman al-Zawahiri and we’re prepared to take further action.”
The strike came nearly one year after U.S. troops withdrew from Afghanistan, which Sullivan said shows that the U.S. can continue to ensure that Afghanistan is not used to harbor terrorist organizations without having American forces on the ground.
“If there is someone plotting in Afghanistan against the United States, or if there is an Al Qaeda leader trying to inspire attacks against America and Americans as Zawahiri was doing, we will find them, and we will take them out, and we just did that,” Sullivan said.
For years, al-Zawahiri had been near the top of the FBI’s list of most wanted terrorists. He is considered to be one of the masterminds behind the September 11 attacks.
Former acting CIA director and CBS News contributor Michael Morell told “CBS Mornings” that he remembered how former President George W. Bush kept a chart of all operatives responsible for 9/11, and each individual would be crossed off the list as they were captured or killed.
“This weekend was the last person on the list, that was al-Zawahiri, and he was crossed,” Morell said.
Morell said al-Zawahiri’s death brings some sort of closure to the families of 9/11 victims and sends a message to other al Qaeda members.
“Al Qaeda has wanted to use Afghanistan, to use Taliban control of Afghanistan to rebuild their capabilities. They’re fairly weak there now, but they want to rebuild their capabilities, and what this does, more than anything else, it says to them, ‘we have to worry first and foremost about our security even in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan because the U.S. can reach us there’,” said Morell. “That will make it more difficult for them to rebound. So that is a good thing, that is the main benefit of this strike over the weekend.”