Ayman al-Zawahiri (R) with Al Qa’eda leader Osama bin Laden (File)

US forces killed Al Qa’eda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a drone strike on Afghanistan’s capital Kabul early Sunday morning.

The CIA fired two Hellfire missiles at the balcony of the safe house, killing al-Zawahri without any other casualties, including members of his family or nearby civilians, US officials said.

US President Joe Biden announced on Monday night:

Now justice has been delivered and this terrorist leader is no more.

We make it clear again tonight that no matter how long it takes, no matter where you hide, if you are a threat to our people, the United States will find you and take you out.

US intelligence services tracked al-Zawahiri to Kabul earlier this year. They spent months to confirm that he was hiding in a safe house in a crowded section of the capital.

Biden authorized the assassination last week.

The Taliban, forced out of power in Kabul in November 2001 after it sheltered Al Qa’eda leaders including Osama bin Laden and al-Zawahiri, had made a commitment with the Trump Administration not to renew the safe haven.

An American official said al-Zawahiri’s presence in Kabul was a “clear violation” of the agreement, but gave no indications of consequences. Biden said in his seven-minute address:

We will never again, never again allow Afghanistan to become a terrorist safe haven, because he is gone and we’re going to make sure nothing else happens. It can’t be a launching pad against the United States. We’re going to see to it that won’t happen.

A Taliban statement denounced the operation: “It is an act against the interests of Afghanistan and the region. Repeating such actions will damage the available opportunities.”

A “senior US administration official” said members of the Haqqani Network, the leading faction in the Taliban government, restricted access to the site and tried to conceal Zawahiri’s presence. The official assured that the US had multiple intelligence sources confirming that the Al Qa’eda was killed.

Background of an Assassination

The Al Qa’eda leadership had been in northwest Pakistan since leaving Afghanistan in early 2002, remaining there after Bin Laden was killed by a US Navy SEAL operation in 2011.

Earlier this year, US intelligence sources learned that al-Zawahiri’s wife, daughter, and grandchildren had relocated to a house in Kabul. US intelligence agencies built up a profile of activity establishing that al-Zawahiri arrived at the safe house. They never saw him leave, and observed him for sustained periods on the balcony.

US Deputy National Security Advisor Jonathan Finer and Homeland Security Advisor Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall were briefed on the intelligence in April. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, subsequently told of the situation, informed Biden of the details.

On July 1, CIA Director William Burns; Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines; Christine Abizaid, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center; and other officials walked Biden through the planned operation, using a model of the safe house.