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Tipsheet

'Justice Has Been Delivered': Biden Heralds Drone Strike Killing Al Qaeda's Leader

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

In live remarks from the White House's Blue Room balcony — a precautionary location chosen since the president is still COVID positive with his post-PAXLOVID viral rebound — Joe Biden confirmed that a U.S. drone strike launched by the CIA over the weekend had killed Al Qaeda's leader Aiman Al-Zawahiri in Kabul, Afghanistan. 

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"Now, justice has been delivered and this terrorist leader is no more," the president told the nation of Zawahiri's demise.

"He was deeply involved in the planning of 9/11," Biden reminded, and "for decades he was the mastermind behind attacks on Americans." Those include Al Qaeda's attacks on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000, attacks on U.S. Embassies in Africa in the 1980s, and the attack on our homeland in 2001.

Biden said that the U.S. government "located Zawahiri earlier this year" when the terrorist leader returned to Afghanistan following the U.S. withdrawal to "reunite with members of his immediate family." Then, roughly one week ago, Biden was notified that conditions were right for a strike to be attempted. "I authorized a precision strike that would remove him from the battlefield once and for all," Biden reiterated. The successful strike was apparently so precise that "none of his family members were hurt" despite them reportedly being on the same property.

The leader of Al Qaeda since heroic Seal Team 6 soldiers killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011, Zawahiri was in "hiding" for years but he still "coordinated Al Qaeda's branches," Biden explained before seeking to use the successful strike as a warning to other terrorist groups.

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"The United States continues to demonstrate our resolve and our capacity to defend the American people against those who seek to do us harm," Biden said. "We make it clear again tonight that 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 take you out."

The president also sought to use the successful strike to justify his withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, repeating a familiar justification from nearly one year ago that our interests "no longer needed thousands of boots on the ground." But, as Katie reminded on Monday evening before Biden's address, Biden had made the same claim about the U.S. no longer having an interest in Afghanistan with "Al Qaeda gone." Obviously, as the weekend's CIA strike against Al Qaeda's leader who was hanging out in Kabul shows, that was not the case.

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Still, the death of Al Qaeda's leader makes Monday a good day for America and a bad day for the bad guys. Biden tied the strike back to the "searing" day of September 11, 2001 saying "we continue to mourn every innocent life that was stolen on 9/11. It is my hope that this decisive action will bring one more measure of closure," Biden added in a nod to the families and loved ones of the 2,977 innocent lives stolen nearly 21 years ago. "We do not break. We never give in. We never back down."

Biden also thanked the members of the U.S. counterterrorism and intelligence communities who "never forget" what Al Qaeda did to the United States. "We will always remain vigilant, we will always act."

"Today we remember the lost, we commit ourselves to the safety of the living, and we pledge that we shall never waver from defending this nation or its people," Biden said.  

Additional reporting Monday night added that, unlike other strikes we've later seen photos of, there won't be a photo of Biden surrounded by aides in the situation room on Saturday night as the strike played out — he had COVID and was under a strict quarantine. 

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It's worth noting, as Biden takes a victory lap on Monday night, that then-Vice President Biden was hesitant to advocate for launching the successful 2011 raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, and while on the campaign trail in 2020 Biden called President Donald Trump "dangerously incompetent" for ordering the drone strike that killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. 

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