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Justice for al Qaeda’s Zawahiri

Ayman al-Zawahiri in 2009.


-/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

It took nearly 21 years, but the U.S. finally removed al Qaeda leader

Ayman al-Zawahiri

from the terrorist battlefield. President Biden said Monday evening that

Osama bin Laden’s

longtime deputy was killed Sunday in a counterterrorism operation in Afghanistan that others confirmed as a drone strike.

As Mr. Biden noted, the strike brings another measure of justice for the victims of the 9/11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 Americans on U.S. soil. The 71-year-old Egyptian co-founded al Qaeda and helped bin Laden build an operation that could spread radical Islam and murder innocents without remorse.

Mr. Biden praised the operation as a triumph of U.S. intelligence, but Zawahiri eluded detection for more than two decades. The President said he was located some months ago in Kabul, the Afghan capital, as he sought to reunite with his family. Perhaps he let his guard down after the Taliban captured Kabul and drove the U.S. out of Afghanistan last August.

A Taliban spokesman condemned the strike, but Zawahiri’s discovery in Kabul suggests close collaboration between the Taliban and al Qaeda. The Taliban provided sanctuary to al Qaeda before Sept. 11, 2001, and it’s impossible to believe that Taliban officials didn’t know Zawahiri was in their midst. The Taliban are giving safe harbor to jihadists even if they aren’t joining their plots to strike the U.S.

The strike was the first known U.S. anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan since the chaotic U.S. departure. It’s encouraging that the U.S. could pull off the operation after the loss of listening posts on the ground. But it’s no guarantee that the U.S. can track the many al Qaeda and Islamic State camps and agents still operating in the country.

The strike should be a warning to the Taliban that abetting al Qaeda is a bad survival strategy. If terrorists based in Afghanistan plot and kill Americans, the Taliban should understand that their leaders will also be targets.

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