Zawahiri’s death a boost for Biden a year after chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan
Nearly a year after the debacle of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, a Joe Biden still positive for Covid and at the lowest point in the polls has swept the critics to announce the death of the leader of Al-Qaeda in a US operation. United in Kabul and try to relaunch themselves on the domestic political scene.
“When I ended our military mission in Afghanistan almost a year ago, I decided that after 20 years of war, the United States no longer needed thousands of boots in the field,” Biden told the nation Monday night when announcing the death of Ayman al-Zawahiri.
“I promised the American people that we would continue to conduct effective counterterrorism operations (…). That is exactly what we have done,” he added.
Announcing the death of jihadist leaders has become both a dark and highly political ritual for US presidents since the attacks of September 11, 2001.
When Barack Obama, known for his oratorical skills, revealed the operation that killed Osama bin Laden in his house in Pakistan, Americans took to the streets chanting “USA!”.
Donald Trump had used colorful language to announce in 2019 the death in Syria of the leader of the Islamic State group Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and pose as a strong man. “He died like a dog,” he said.
Mr. Biden, whom the Covid forced into isolation, delivered his speech from a noisy White House balcony, with Washington police sirens in the background.
Almost a year after the chaotic withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, the Democratic president is highly unpopular. The announcement of Zawahiri’s death therefore comes at the right time for a head of state seeking to reverse the trend.
While refraining from sounding triumphant, Mr Biden noted that the leader of al-Qaeda had been on the wanted list “for years under Presidents Bush, Obama and Trump”.
The implication: the country is in good hands under Biden.
“No matter how long it takes, no matter where you are hiding, if you are a threat to our people, the United States will find you and eliminate you,” Biden said.
– Too early to rejoice? –
On the left as on the right, the detractors of the withdrawal from Afghanistan had considered it a humiliating spectacle for the United States which would also make the country a hotbed of anti-American jihadist groups, as at the time of September 11.
Joe Biden maintained that he had the courage to end a failed war and that there would simply never be a clean end to the debacle.
Responding to skeptics, he also promised that the ability to carry out operations thought out and organized from the United States, without the need for troops on the spot, meant that it would no longer be necessary to risk American lives.
With Zawahiri dead, Joe Biden has a golden opportunity to prove he was right.
And praise has even rocketed from the side of the conservatives. A Fox News presenter, who is most often hostile to the president, described the operation as a “huge victory for the United States”.
Some experts warn, however, that we should not rejoice too quickly.
James Jeffrey, former US ambassador to Iraq now president of the Wilson Center’s Middle East program, certainly applauded an operation demonstrating “excellent intelligence, operational strike and decision-making capability.”
But that expertise won’t be able to erase the ‘chaos’ of last year’s withdrawal, which Mr Jeffrey blamed on poor coordination and the fact that Mr Biden ‘hampered’ his staff by refusing to accept that he could be downsides to opting out – or preparing for those issues.
Nathan Sales, another former diplomat who works at the Atlantic Council research center, called Zawahiri’s mere presence in Kabul a failure for the United States, suggesting that “as feared, the Taliban are once again granting refuge to the leaders of al-Qaeda”.
And it’s too early to say whether even this spectacular drone strike “can be replicated against other terrorist targets”, he said.
“Until we know more, we must resist the urge to see the strike as a justification for counter-terrorism” carried out from abroad, he pleaded.
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