There are many resonances between the killing of Al-Qaeda chief Dr Ayman Az-Zawahiri and its founder, Osama bin Laden in 2011. Where Mr bin Laden was killed by US Navy Seals under President Barack Obama, his deputy and successor was killed by a US drone under Mr Obama’s vice-president and eventual successor. If the world was given an ‘Obama-in-the-White-House-Situation-Room’ moment, it now has a similar moment for President Joe Biden. Where Mr bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad, thus raising suspicions about what he was doing in a garrison town, Dr Az-Zawahiri was killed in Kabul. That was enough to raise hackles about why the Taliban regime had allowed him to take refuge.
One dissimilarity is that the USA did not take possession of Dr Az-Zawahiri’s body as was done vin Mr bin Laden’’s case, leaving the Taliban to confirm his death. They are damned if they do, because it will lead to embarrassing questions about what he was doing in Kabul, which in turn will raise queries about how far the Taliban are trying to meet international concerns, linked to its recognition, about the presence of militant groups in general, and Al-Qaeda in particular, on its soil.
Though the drone may well have flown from the Gulf, at least part of its flight path necessitated passing through Pakistani airspace. As with the operation against Mr bin Laden, the military might face criticism. That the military is facing criticism already for subservience to the USA, makes it particularly vulnerable.
Though the USA might take some pleasure in getting revenge for 9/11, the bottom line should be whether it has made the USA and its citizens safer, and secure from such an attack. Al-Qaeda is not doing much these days, having been supplanted by ISIL as the main magnet for all those interested in fighting to establish an Islamic state. This also does not allow the USA to claim victory in the War on Terror, with the problem being that such naked displays of military might, and blatant violations of national sovereignty, as occurred during Dr Az-Zawahiri’s killing, are precisely the kind of actions that will recruits to the side of militant organizations.