Islamabad: Slain Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden’s successor Ayman Al Zawahiri was assassinated in “an over-the-horizon operation” involving a “secret weapon” by the US in downtown Kabul on July 31, more than 11 years after the terror groups founding chief was killed in a US Navy SEALs operation in Abbottabad, a media report said.
Speculation abounds on how the US might have found and killed Zawahiri.
According to the report in The Express Tribune, the targeted compound is just a few minutes’ drive from the Indian Embassy in Kabul where technical staff is currently based.
Interestingly, Zawahiri’s second last video message was about Muskan Khan, a burqa-clad Indian Muslim girl who dared a group of young saffronites and shouted “Allah-O-Akbar” in front of them in Karnataka state in February 2022, The Express Tribune reported.
Eighty-two per cent of officials of Afghanistan’s former spy agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), have been allowed by the IEA to work in various ministries due to a lack of technically qualified resources in their ranks.
They could have been a source of information for the Indian Embassy because the NDS and RAW worked hand in hand during Ghani’s rule.
There is a possibility that the Indians might have got the information from NDS and shared it with the Americans, The Express Tribune reported.
There are questions around which airbase was used to launch the MQ9 drone. Pakistan has denied any role in the strike. Military spokesperson Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar categorically stated that there was “no question of Pakistani soil being used for this purpose”.
The Foreign Office went a step further to even rule out the use of Pakistan’s airspace.
A US media report claimed that the pilot-less aircraft was possibly launched from Ganci airbase, the US transit facility at Manas in northern Kyrgyzstan.
There were also media reports of some US air activity in Farkhor in Tajikistan, near the border with northern Afghanistan, 15 to 20 days ago. Other than that, Ayani airbase, in Tajikistan operated by US’s Quad partner India, and the CIA-operated K-2 Base in Uzbekistan could also be potentially used to carry out such a strike, The Express Tribune reported.
The neighbourhood where the Zawahiri lived, located just 1.5 kilometres away from the Afghan Presidential Palace, is off-limits to most people, which rules out an outside sneak peek at Zawahiri’s safehouse.
Since the US has zero on-ground presence in Afghanistan after their pullout a year ago, rumours swirl that it might have been an inside job. America’s former point-man for the region Zalmay Khalilzad has hinted that the US may have been tipped off by the Taliban due to an internal power struggle between the Haqqani Network and the Kandahari Group, The Express Tribune reported.
Michael Barak, a researcher at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT), doesn’t rule out the possibility that the Kandahari Group might have shared intelligence with the US because they perceive the Haqqanis’ alliance with Al Qaeda as a threat to their efforts to stabilise Afghanistan.
Mullah Yaqoob, the Taliban Defence Minister who represents the Kandahari Group, is said to be trying to carve out a larger space for himself. He has also tried to become relevant to Doha, Qatar. He embarked upon an unannounced visit to Qatar in the last week of July in an unprecedented move.
Mullah Yaqoob reportedly met with some US officials in Doha. Speculations are rife that he might have leaked information on Zawahiri as a tradeoff for the release of Afghanistan’s $3.5 billion funds seized by the US, The Express Tribune reported.
Moreover, since he leads the Kandahari Group, he might have done so to increase his credibility with the US and also to neutralise the rival Haqqanis.
Al Qaeda is a shadow of its former self and hence Zawahiri was virtually of no value to the Taliban; therefore he could have easily been given up in a quid pro quo.
A pro-Taliban channel on Telegram, ‘Anfal Afghan Agency’, claimed the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K), in collaboration with Iran, might have helped the CIA track down Zawahiri.
Sharing what it called “exclusive details”, the channel claimed that IS-K’s chief Shahab al Muhajir sent a “contaminated” letter of allegiance to Zawahiri that revealed his location to the Americans, The Express Tribune reported.
The Taliban claim to have found corroborating evidence at the site including the “letter of allegiance” and a flash drive.