The world was stunned when Osama bin Laden was killed by US Navy Seals 11 years ago, says Jeff Greenfield in Politico. Sunday’s assassination of Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s successor and the co-architect of the horrific 9/11 attacks, will by contrast be a “second-tier” story. This is in part “a measure of success”: since 9/11, al-Qaeda has committed no major attacks on US soil, rendering it a relatively minor concern for Americans. The killing of al-Zawahiri is nevertheless a “clear achievement”. Just as Israel spent years hunting down “every one of the terrorists who killed its athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics”, America has had the “persistent determination” to avenge the deaths of 9/11 more than two decades later.
But the fact that al-Zawahiri was found in Kabul is troubling. It’s hard to believe that the Taliban, which promised not to harbour terrorists when it regained control of Afghanistan, was totally unaware of his presence. After all, the whole reason we invaded 21 years ago was that the Taliban regime was sheltering al-Qaeda operatives. The only “remotely positive” part of America’s chaotic withdrawal last summer was the belief we could finally forget about the whole sorry, bloody affair. But if al-Zawahiri’s death in Afghanistan means “there are others with malevolent intentions abiding there”, then maybe that relief was “sadly misplaced”.