How Biden and his team decided to kill the world’s most wanted terrorist


Before he gave the order to kill Ayman al-Zawahiri, President Joe Biden wanted to intimately understand where the al Qaeda leader was hiding.

The US drone strike that killed Zawahiri on his balcony in downtown Kabul was the product of months of highly secret planning by Biden and a tight circle of his senior advisers. Among the preparations was a small-scale model of Zawahiri’s safe house, constructed by intelligence officials and placed inside the White House Situation Room for Biden to examine as he debated his options.

For Biden, the opportunity to take out the world’s most wanted terrorist, one of the masterminds of the September, 11, 2001, attacks, was fraught with the risk of accidentally killing civilians in the Afghan capital — just as a US …

Biden was “deeply engaged in the briefing and immersed in the intelligence,” a senior official said.

He asked “detailed questions about what we knew and how we knew it.”

Of particular interest was a scale model of Zawahiri’s house that intelligence officials had constructed and brought into the White House for the President to examine. Biden questioned how the house might be lit by the sun, its construction materials and how the weather could affect any operation, the official said.

“He was particularly focused on ensuring that every step had been taken to ensure the operation would minimize that risk” of civilian casualties, according to the official.
Biden asked his team for more information about the building’s plans and how a strike might affect it.

He flew to Camp David later that afternoon.

His team remained behind, convening multiple times in the Situation Room over the next weeks to complete their planning, answer the President’s questions and ensure they’d taken every contingency to minimize risks.
[10:48 PM, 8/1/2022] Not 2: A parallel effort by senior administration lawyers was underway to examine the intelligence related to Zawahiri and establish the legal basis for the operation.

On July 25 — as he was isolating with Covid-19 in the White House residence — Biden brought his team back together to receive a final briefing. He again pressed at a “granular level,” the official said, asking about any additional options that could minimize civilian casualties.

He asked about the layout of the house — where the rooms were positioned behind windows and doors on the third floor — and what potential effect the strike would have.

And he went around his team, asking each official’s view.

At the end, he authorized a “precise tailored airstrike” to take out the target.

Five days later, two Hellfire missiles were fired into the balcony of the safe house in Kabul at 6:18 a.m. local time. “Multiple streams of intelligence” confirmed Zawahiri was killed.


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