America’s tormentor-in-chief is no more. The dreaded al-Qaeda’s leading light Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed by an American drone strike on 31 July in Kabul. This proved to be momentous for America, as al-Qaeda was behind the deadly 09/11 attacks in the United States. Momentous it was, American president Joe Biden gushed forth to say, at long last, the fear of a determined killer is dead and gone.
Was Biden’s excitement a tad premature? Does Zawahiri’s death mean al-Qaeda’s end? Was Biden too excited to do an objective analysis of possible post-Zawahiri scenarios? Was a simple avenging of the 09/11 attacks enough for Biden to rejoice? These questions need answers before rushing into a hasty victory bash.
Doha Accord Dead
Sure, Biden needs to sit back and introspect now. More so as Zawahiri was found and killed in Afghanistan. This means, as suspected, the Doha accord is dead. As feared, an accord-dishonouring Afghanistan has been allowing its soil to be used by terrorists. This should tell Biden and his crack team believing al-Qaeda is fraught with risks.
Precisely a year ago, Biden ordered his American troops to withdraw from Afghanistan. Now, so soon, the al-Qaeda leading light was found and killed in the Taliban-controlled capital Kabul. Thus, celebrations in Washington should give way to deep introspection. Plus, Biden and his team should do a detailed analysis of what is likely to happen to al-Qaeda and its affiliates now.
Again, more questions return to haunt Biden and his administration. Can a mere killing of Zawahiri guarantee Americans everlasting freedom from salafi-jihadi terrorism? Biden says he is determined to ensure targeted attacks do not happen in America and Afghanistan does not end up being “a launching pad against the United States”. Is such expression of intent enough to root out terrorism? https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2022/08/01/remarks-by-president-biden-on-a-successful-counterterrorism-operation-in-afghanistan/
The Haqqani Connection
Surely, Biden would find the answers sobering, if he cares to read recent history. Despite America’s onslaught in Syria against affiliate Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS), al-Qaeda showed no inclination to go slow on its terrorism agenda. Despite America’s drone attack, which killed its operation manager, al-Qaeda soldiered on with its terrorist mission. Why should an ideology-obsessed terror group give up its terrorist activities now? Why should this group believe now terrorism is not the weapon to be used to usher in Islamic caliphate? Zawahiri’s death is not enough for this to happen.
Probe deeper to find more eye-openers. Zawahiri was killed in a safe Haqqani house. The terrorist Haqqani network thrives on its throbbing links with al-Qaeda and espionage-espousing Inter State Intelligence of Pakistan. What more, Haqqani network’s top star Sirajuddin Haqqani is Taliban’s acting interior minister today. How would al-Qaeda give up the terrorist path?
The Sabotage Theory
As Biden ensured civilians were not harmed in the Kill-Zawahiri operation, he was earnest too about not endangering Taliban relations. This desire is at risk now. On Zawahiri’s death, Taliban went on to say Biden’s action would sabotage “available opportunities”. If Taliban is to be believed, its efforts to get diplomatic recognition and create a peaceful Afghanistan go out of the window. Where does this place US-Taliban promises and relations? https://www.voanews.com/a/taliban-say-us-is-biggest-hurdle-to-diplomatic-recognition/6623070.html
Such a sabotage theory will breed insecurities in al-Qaeda leadership. An insecure al-Qaeda is sure to launch deadlier terrorist attacks on United States. However, it will not take much time for al-Qaeda to find an equally fire-breathing leader and regroup itself to execute its deathly mission. Again and again, al-Qaeda has proved its resilience and ability to bounce back.
With Taliban at the helm in Afghanistan, it becomes doubly easy for al-Qaeda to bounce back. Taliban will continue to thumb its nose at Biden and his crack team by junking the Doha Accord, which they have already done to a large extent. Taliban will thus continue to offer asylum to anyone who will promise them help in its anti-America mission. So, it will be easier for al-Qaeda to get support from Taliban.
Taking on the Role of ISIS
Meanwhile, al-Qaeda-watchers are circulating theories on how the terror group’s fortunes will rise now. They argue relentless American offensive and its own extreme brutality have pushed the ISIS caliphate into disarray. So, al-Qaeda will capitalise on this and fill the shoes of ISIS to usher a durable Caliphate in the Muslim Middle East.
This means, Zawahiri or no Zawahiri, al-Qaeda is not going to get written off so easily. Criticisms of al-Qaeda being obsessed with America at the cost of the creating the Caliphate will die down as al-Qaeda rushes in quickly to take on the role of ISIS.
Today, al-Qaeda is a vastly enthused Islamic terror grouping as the going is good. Its Taliban friends are back in power in Afghanistan. Its military and money clout is rising thanks to Taliban, which treats al-Qaeda is an indispensable ally and advisor. Al-Qaeda is slowly, but surely, spreading its fire-power in Asia and Africa. Its goal to anoint itself as the leader of global salafi-jihadism appears not distant.
Fissures to Vanish Fast
In such an encouraging scenario, Zawahiri’s death will not dampen al-Qaeda’s spirits. In fact, its foot soldiers will leverage Zawahiri’s death as a rallying war cry against United States and its Western allies and promote al-Qaeda as the sole flag-bearer of salafi-jihadism.
Whoever succeeds Zawahiri, whether it is al-Qaeda’ former interim leader Saif al-Adel, who is now living in Iran with an American bounty on his life, or Zawahiri’s son-in-law al-Maghrebi, or anyone else, Zawahiri’s ideals and mission, his fervour and fanaticism, are sure to keep al-Qaeda alive and active as ever. There could be fissures in al-Qaeda now, but they will quickly seal the cracks in the interest of salafi-jihadism. If al-Qaeda’s foot soldiers could do this after Osama bin Laden, they could do now post-Zawahiri. https://www.csis.org/analysis/zawahiris-death-and-whats-next-al-qaeda
The message is clear. As Biden concentrates on the Ukraine war and Taiwan, anti-terrorism zeal alone is not enough. Unless a concerted counter operations are launched by America and its allies to eliminate al-Qaeda and its affiliates, the terror group will continue to thrive with active help from its global franchisees.
Finally, everything depends on how effectively the United States and its allies prevent al-Qaeda from regrouping under the new leader. As long as Taliban is at Afghanistan’s helm, it will remain wedded to al-Qaeda. Thus, high-intensity attacks in strategic Western locations are not ruled out. Zawahiri might have died, but he lives on with his inspirational videos. This live inspiration may prove to be a greater danger on the road ahead. In fact, Biden’s job begins now.