Who was Ayman al-Zawahri? Where does his death leave al-Qaida and what does it say about US counterterrorism?

Ayman al-Zawahri, leader of al-Qaida and a plotter of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, has been killed in a drone strike in the Afghan city of Kabul, according to the U.S. government.

Al-Zawahri was the the successor to Osama bin Laden and his death marked “one more measure of closure” to the families of those killed in the 2001 atrocities, U.S. President Joe Biden said during televised remarks on Aug. 1, 2022.

The operation came almost a year after American troops exited Afghanistan after decades of fighting there. The Conversation asked Daniel Milton, a terrorism expert at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and Haroro J. Ingram and Andrew Mines, research fellows at the George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, to explain the significance of the strike on al-Zawahri and what it says about U.S. counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan under the Taliban.

Who was Ayman al-Zawahri?

Ayman al-Zawahri was an Egyptian-born jihadist who became al-Qaida’s top leader in 2011 after his predecessor, Osama bin Laden, was killed by a U.S. operation. Al-Zawahri’s ascent followed years in which al-Qaida’s leadership had been devastated by U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan. Bin Laden had himself been struggling in the years leading up to his death to exert control and unity across al-Qaida’s global network of affiliates.

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