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"If you are a threat to our people, the United States will find you and eliminate you" Joe Biden's popularity rises after eliminating terrorist leader

The United States killed al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri with a guided missile while he was on a balcony of his home in central Kabul, Afghanistan, in the biggest blow to the militants since Osama bin Laden was killed. more than a decade ago and a victory for Joe Biden a year after the disastrous departure of the United States from the Asian country.

Afghanistan’s Taliban government has not confirmed the death of Zawahiri, an Egyptian surgeon with a $25 million bounty on his head who helped coordinate the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States that killed nearly 3,000. people.

US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Zawahiri died when he stepped onto the balcony of his safe house in Kabul at 6:18 a.m. Sunday (8:48 p.m. Saturday Mexico City time) and was hit by Hellfire missiles from a US drone.

“Justice has now been served, and this terrorist leader is no more,” US President Joe Biden said in televised remarks from the White House on Monday. “No matter how long it takes, no matter where you hide, if you are a threat to our people, the United States will find you and eliminate you.”

For Biden, this is a reinforcement of his image in the midst of an election year and with an approval rating of just 39.7%, according to the average of polls from

“When I ended our military mission in Afghanistan almost a year ago, I made the decision that after 20 years of war, the United States no longer needed thousands of boots on the ground,” Biden said. “I promised the American people that we would continue to conduct effective counterterrorism operations … That is precisely what we have done,” he added.

A ritual for US presidents

Announcing the death of jihadist leaders has become a ritual, both dark and highly political, for US presidents since the attacks of September 11, 2001.

When Barack Obama revealed in 2011 the operation to kill Osama bin Laden at his home in Pakistan, people took to the streets shouting “America!”

Donald Trump took a different approach in 2019 to report on a raid to kill Islamic State (IS) group leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi in Syria, aiming to bolster his image as a strongman. “He died like a dog,” he said.

For Biden, the scenario was unfavorable. Isolated in the White House with covid-19, in the doldrums in the polls and ahead of the anniversary of the chaotic August 2021 withdrawal of US troops from Kabul, the Democrat is in a weak position.

To respect the ventilation measures due to covid-19, he delivered the speech from the balcony of the Blue Room. As he spoke, the sirens of the Washington police could be heard in the background.

However, the announcement fell at a good time for a president who seeks to change the narrative.

Eschewing triumphalism, Biden noted that Zawahiri was on the most wanted list “for years under Presidents (George W.) Bush, Obama and Trump.”

The implication, that the country is safe in Biden’s hands, was clear.

The triumph of the strategy?

Critical voices, both from the right and from the left, estimated last year that the US withdrawal from Kabul was a show of ineptitude and a humiliating spectacle that would also turn Afghanistan into a hotbed of Islamic groups with animosity towards the Americans, as was the case in times of September 11.

Biden defended himself by saying that he had the courage to end a failed war under three presidents and that there was no way to end it any other way. And he assured that there would no longer be a need to risk American lives on the ground.

Now, with the death of Al Zawahiri, Biden has a golden opportunity to say that he has been proven right.

Afghanistan “cannot be a launch pad against the United States,” Biden said in his speech.

Doesn’t make up for the chaos in Afghanistan

It drew praise, some of it unexpected, with the often-hostile Fox News calling it “President Biden’s bin Laden moment” and “a big, big win for America.”

However, some experts warn against the White House spin.

James Jeffrey, a former US ambassador to Iraq and now chairman of the Wilson Center think tank’s Middle East Program, applauded the operation for “excellent intelligence, operational strike capability and decisiveness.”

However, he felt that this does not make up for the “chaos” of last year’s Afghan withdrawal, which Jeffrey attributed to poor coordination and the “inability” of Biden’s staff in refusing to accept that there might be drawbacks to withdrawing, or planning for them.

Nathan Sales, another former diplomat who works at the Atlantic Council think-tank, said al-Zawahiri’s mere presence in Kabul was a failure for the US, suggesting that “as feared, the Taliban are once again giving safe haven to leaders of Al Qaeda”.

And it is too early to say whether a spectacular drone attack “can be replicated against other terrorist targets,” he insisted.

With information from AFP and Reuters

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