On July 31, in an early morning drone strike, the USA killed al-Qaeda’s 71-year-old chief Ayman al-Zawahiri in a Kabul secure home he had reportedly been staying in along with his household for a number of months.
The elimination of al-Zawahiri, a key plotter of the 9/11 assaults, is a major acquire for the US which has been in want of a serious victory in its international counterterror operation since its poorly executed withdrawal from Afghanistan. On the identical time, it’s a huge setback for al-Qaeda which has lengthy been affected by monetary issues, restricted command and management, infighting, and the dearth of a geographical haven.
The assassination, nevertheless, will maybe be most consequential for the Taliban, as it should drive the group’s leaders to reassess their relations with each the US and al-Qaeda, in addition to its aspirations for worldwide recognition.
The Taliban between a rock and a tough place
Al-Zawahiri, who assumed the management of al-Qaeda in 2011 following the killing of its founder Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, was an uncharismatic however competent chief. He headed al-Qaeda throughout turbulent occasions and managed to maintain its model alive regardless of varied US drone strikes eliminating its key leaders and its Iraq department breaking away to kind ISIL (ISIS) in 2014.
Earlier than Sunday’s assassination, al-Qaeda was experiencing a sluggish however regular revival largely due to the Taliban’s return to energy in Afghanistan. The group celebrated the Taliban’s victory as if it was its personal. Because the takeover, al-Zawahiri had been releasing propaganda movies far more often, demonstrating his rising confidence. A latest United Nations report confirmed that the group enjoys “larger freedom in Afghanistan beneath the Taliban’s rule” and indicated that a few of its members could even be advising the de facto regime.
The killing of al-Zawahiri in a secure home in an upscale Kabul neighbourhood, simply 1.5 kilometres (3.1 miles) from the presidential palace, erased any remaining doubts in regards to the persevering with partnership between the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The assassination supplied plain proof that, in clear violation of the 2020 Doha settlement – which made the NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan contingent on the Taliban’s assurances that Afghanistan wouldn’t function a haven for al-Qaeda beneath its rule – the Taliban was not solely allied to al-Qaeda, but it surely was harbouring its chief as effectively.
The assassination left the Taliban in a troublesome place on two fronts.
On the one hand, it probably precipitated Washington to lose any remaining belief it had within the Taliban regime, and dashed its probabilities of getting worldwide recognition any time quickly. Certainly, after the revelation that the al-Qaeda chief, who helped organise the 9/11 assaults, was allowed to dwell in Kabul, no nation will consider that the Taliban is working to stop Afghanistan from turning into a haven for terror teams.
Then again, the assassination probably broken the Taliban’s ties with al-Qaeda past restore. Till al-Zawahiri’s killing, the connection between the 2 teams was primarily based on belief. After 9/11, for instance, Taliban founder Mullah Omar opted to face an invasion and lose energy slightly than hand over Osama bin Laden to the US.
After al-Zawahiri’s killing, al-Qaeda will undoubtedly wrestle to belief the Taliban. Some members will see the assassination as an indication of the Taliban’s shifting alliances, whereas others will view it as a consequence of the group’s rising incompetence. Both manner, Taliban leaders will probably wrestle to elucidate what occurred and why it occurred to their allies in al-Qaeda.
Past ruining its relations with each the US and al-Qaeda, the assassination of al-Zawahiri will even injury the Taliban from inside. The killing will intensify the intra-Taliban rivalry between the pragmatists who needed to distance the group from al-Qaeda and different hardline teams just like the Haqqani Community, and ideologues who insisted on persevering with to harbour and assist terror teams.
The top of al-Qaeda?
After Osama bin Laden’s loss of life, al-Zawahiri’s assassination is the second most important blow to al-Qaeda and the group could not be capable of get well from it.
For now, the 2 candidates most definitely to develop into al-Qaeda’s subsequent chief are al-Zawahiri’s Egyptian deputy Saif al-Adel and his Moroccan-born son-in-law and media operations head Abd al-Rehman al-Maghribi. Each males presently dwell in Iran, and following the November 2020 killing of al-Qaeda’s quantity two, Abu Muhammad al-Masri, in Tehran by Israeli forces, they’re unlikely to really feel secure sufficient to tackle the highest job in Iran.
Nonetheless, after al-Zawahiri’s assassination in Kabul – and the ensuing lack of belief between the Taliban and al-Qaeda – they probably won’t really feel secure main the organisation from Afghanistan, both.
As a result of this lack of a geographical haven within the wider Center East, the management of the group could should shift to one of many safer al-Qaeda franchises elsewhere on the earth. At the moment, the Somali al-Shabab, led by Ahmed Diriye, is the strongest and most resourceful al-Qaeda franchise on the earth. However Diriye, a non-Arab, assuming the management place could anger members in Syria, Yemen, Pakistan and past, paving the best way for the community’s disintegration. Consequently, regardless of his uninspiring character, al-Qaeda could wrestle to exchange al-Zawahiri.
Moreover, on the very second that it misplaced not solely its chief but additionally its haven in Taliban-led Afghanistan, al-Qaeda can be dealing with an ISIL resurgence in Africa which threatens its future.
After al-Zawahiri’s demise, all indicators point out that the tip of the phobia group he led for a decade can be close to. It might additionally inflict a serious blow on the Taliban, and drive the group to rethink its alliances with hardliners at a time when it’s searching for worldwide recognition.
Coupled with ISIL’s general decline and the elimination of its chief, Abu Ibrahim al-Qurayshi, in Syria in February, all this underscores that transnational terror networks have handed their prime. Nonetheless, the specter of transnational terrorism is way from over and would require steady vigilance, monitoring and kinetic interventions to degrade it as and when wanted in ungoverned areas.
The views expressed on this article are the writer’s personal and don’t essentially mirror Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.