The United States carried out a successful counterterrorism operation to kill top al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri over the weekend.
But terrorism experts quickly pointed out the glaring problem with the operation: al-Zawahiri was targeted while standing on the balcony of a house in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, the country in which Americans died for 20 years before President Joe Biden's disastrous withdrawal one year ago.
What did experts say?
The successful operation was only possible because of the close relationship between the Taliban and al-Qaeda, which itself was only possible because of the collapse of the Afghanistan government last year.
According to expert terrorism analyst Bill Roggio, the narrative that al-Zawahiri's death was a counterterrorism success "masks the undeniable truth that Taliban-controlled Afghanistan is a safe haven for al-Qaeda."
That is because, as Roggio explained, al-Zawahiri was "hiding" in plain-sight, i.e., he was not hiding at all.
"Zawahiri was killed in the Sherpur neighborhood, in a home run by a deputy of Sirajuddin Haqqani. Sirajuddin is of course one of two deputy Taliban emirs as well as the interior minister," Roggio explained. "Zawahiri could not operate in Afghanistan — particularly in Kabul — without the consent of the Taliban. He wasn't in the remote mountains of Kunar, Nuristan, or Nangarhar, or distant provinces of Ghazni, Helmand, or Kandahar. He was in the Taliban's capital."
The tight-knit relationship between the Taliban and Al Qaeda is no secret.
In fact, a United Nations report from last month disclosed, "Al-Qaida leadership reportedly plays an advisory role with the Taliban, and the groups remain close." The report also admitted, "Al-Qaida enjoys greater freedom in Afghanistan under Taliban rule."
Meanwhile, terrorism analyst Ritz Katz echoed Roggio's reaction.
"That Zawahiri, after years of hiding and immense [operations security], was killed on a balcony in a wealthy downtown neighborhood of Kabul--it just shows what a drastic sense of empowerment al-Qaeda leadership has felt under Taliban-ruled Afghanistan," Ratz wrote on Twitter.
What did the US government say?
Secretary of State Antony Blinken released a statement blasting the Taliban for violating the Doha Agreement, which stipulated that al-Qaeda could not find a safe harbor in Afghanistan under Taliban control.
But Blinken did not say the Taliban would face any consequences for violating the controversial peace agreement.
"In the face of the Taliban’s unwillingness or inability to abide by their commitments, we will continue to support the Afghan people with robust humanitarian assistance and to advocate for the protection of their human rights, especially of women and girls," Blinken said.