How President Biden And His Tight Circle Executed Highly Secret Planning To Kill Al Qaeda Leader

How President Biden And His Tight Circle Executed Highly Secret Planning To Kill Al Qaeda Leader

Updated on August 02, 2022 16:54 PM by Anthony Christian

President Joe Biden wanted to understand where the al Qaeda leader was hiding before he gave the order to kill Ayman al-Zawahiri.

The world's most wanted terrorist!

The US drone strike that killed al Qaeda leader on his balcony in downtown Kabul was the output of months of highly secret planning by Joe Biden and his team.

Among the plans was a small-scale model of Zawahiri's safe house, constructed by intelligence authorities and put inside the White House Situation Room for the President to examine as he debated his options.

For President, the opportunity to take out the world's most wanted terrorist, one of the masterminds of the 9/11 attacks in 2001, was fraught with the risk of accidentally killing civilians in the Afghan capital, just as a US drone strike did 11 months ago during the chaotic US military withdrawal from the country.

A senior administration official revealed details of the secret planning as Biden was preparing to disclose the mission Monday.

Throughout the months-long effort to plan this drone strike, Biden often tasked his officials with ensuring civilians, including members of Zawahiri's family, weren't killed. None were, according to the White House.

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Huge victory for Biden administration

Biden, who was isolated due to a COVID infection during the final authorization and deliberations of the strike, emerged to declare victory on a White House balcony Monday.

It was a moment of triumph for a Biden Administration encircled by domestic political issues that stretch back to the deadly withdrawal from Afghanistan a year ago.

President said from the Blue Room Balcony of the White House, "People worldwide no longer need to fear the vicious and determined killer. The US continues to demonstrate our resolve and our capacity to defend the American people against those who seek to do us harm."

Biden was first announced in April on US intelligence, placing Zawahiri at a safe house in Kabul. For months, American officials had been aware of a network supporting the terrorist leader in the Afghan capital. They had identified his wife, daughter, and kids through multiple intelligence streams.

The women employed terrorist "tradecraft" that officials believed prevented anyone from following them to Zawahiri's location in a Kabul neighborhood. Zawahiri himself didn't leave the spot after his arrival.

As the months wore on, US authorities began establishing patterns at the house, including Zawahiri emerging periodically onto the house's balcony for sustained periods.

As US officials continued to monitor his activities, an effort began in complete secret to analyze the building's construction and structure, to develop an operation to take out Zawahiri without compromising the building's structural integrity.

At the top of mind for Biden and his team members was avoiding civilian deaths, including the members of Zawahiri's family living in the building. Independent analysts from across the government identified the other occupants of the building.

That the house was located in downtown Kabul presented its challenges.

Surrounded by civilians, officials were mindful that their planning and information needed to be "rock solid" before presenting any options to President Biden.

Also, they were highly wary of leaks; only a "small and select group" at a scattering of key agencies were notified of the plans.

A missing American citizen

President Biden was also concerned about how it might affect United States efforts to secure the return of Mark Frerichs, an American citizen. The latter was taken hostage in Afghanistan more than a couple of years ago.

An official said President pushed his team to reduce risks to those efforts, along with the ongoing attempts to migrate Afghans who helped the US during the war.

The official said, "From now on with the Taliban, we'll continue to hold them accountable for their actions. And we've made clear to them in the intervening days that we also expect them to take no action that would hurt Mark Frerichs, as we were involved in the effort to set free after his long detention and captivity."

Biden was kept up-to-date on the developments. On the 1st of July, he assembled key national security officials in the White House Situation Room to get a briefing on a proposed operation.

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, CIA Director Bill Burns, Homeland Security Adviser Liz Sherwood Randall, NSA Jake Sullivan, and his deputy Jon Finer was present.

A senior official said Biden was "deeply engaged in the briefing and immersed in the intelligence," adding "detailed questions about what we knew and how we knew it."

A scale model of Zawahiri's house was of particular interest that intelligence authorities had constructed and brought into the White House for Biden to examine. The official said that Biden questioned how the home might be blazed by the sun, its building materials, and how the weather could affect any operation.

According to the official, "He was particularly focused on ensuring that every step had been taken to ensure the operation would mitigate that risk" of civilian casualties.

Biden asked his team for more details about the building's plans and how the strike might affect it. Later that afternoon, he flew to Camp David.

Biden's team remained behind, convening many times in the Situation Room over the following weeks to complete their planning, answer Biden's questions and ensure they had taken every contingency to mitigate risks.

A parallel effort by senior administration lawyers was underway to examine the intelligence related to Zawahiri and establish the legal basis for the operation.

Finally, the secret plan was executed!

On July 25, as he was isolated with COVID-19 in the White House residence, Biden brought his team back together to receive a final briefing. He again pressed at a "granular level," the official said, asking about any additional options that could minimize civilian casualties.

He asked about the layout of the house, where the rooms were positioned behind windows and doors on the third floor, and what potential effect the strike would have.

And he went around his team, asking each official's view.

Ultimately, he authorized a "precise tailored airstrike" to take out the target.

Five days later, two Hellfire missiles were fired into the balcony of the safe house in Kabul at 6:18 a.m. local time. "Multiple streams of intelligence" confirmed Zawahiri was killed.

The official said that members of his family, who were in other areas of the home, were unharmed.

Still isolated in the White House residence with a rebound Covid infection, Biden was informed when the operation began and concluded.

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