The targeted killing of al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri in Kabul came just before the first anniversary of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, reigniting debates about the U.S. military and intelligence capabilities there without having troops present, the Washington Examiner reported on Wednesday.
President Joe Biden made reference to last year's withdrawal, the chaos of which is cited as the beginning of his declining popularity at home, when he addressed the nation about the killing of Zawahri earlier this week.
"I made a promise to the American people that we'd continue to conduct effective counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan and beyond," Biden said. "We've done just that."
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the targeted killing demonstrates that "there's not a scrap of the Earth that the United States can't touch if we need to. And the process of improvement doesn't have shelf life. There's no deadline."
Emily Harding, deputy director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies' International Security Program, agreed that "Biden should rightfully point to this strike as a win for the intelligence community and for the entire U.S., and it will likely mitigate some of the 'one year later' pieces that otherwise would have been truly dismal."
But Harding also told the Washington Examiner that "the bigger story is still bleak: Zawahri's death is a bright spot in what is otherwise a vast darkness of solemn developments."
Harding also noted that "while intelligence collection anywhere in Afghanistan is hard, it is comparatively easy in the capital, where the U.S. had its most robust network and perhaps even still has access to some sympathetic Afghans who would like to see the Taliban fall."
She added that "one strike does not mean the threat is ended or that we have visibility into all threats coming out of Afghanistan."
Katherine Zimmerman, an American Enterprise Institute foreign and defense policy fellow, also questioned if the "resource-intensive" months spent planning the strike is a "truly sustainable" model should other threats emerge.
In addition, she said Zawahri released a significant number of statements in the past year compared to when he was fully in hiding, which means that "relieved from counterterrorism pressure, Zawahri was better able to communicate with his followers.”
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