Republicans say the killing of al Qaeda kingpin Ayman al-Zawahiri raises questions about whether President Biden’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan gave the Taliban free rein to allow the terror group to use the country as a base of operations once again.
Al-Zawahiri, who plotted the 9/11 attacks with Osama bin Laden, was killed while standing on the balcony of his safe house in downtown Kabul by two Hellfire missiles early Saturday, Biden said in an address to the nation on Monday evening.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said al-Zawahiri might be gone, but the threat from al Qaeda in Afghanistan is not.
“Contrary to what President Biden is saying tonight, our ability to combat growing terrorist threats in Afghanistan are on the margins. There are al Qaeda training camps emerging in Afghanistan like before 9/11,” the senator said in a Twitter posting.
“As I said when the Biden Administration withdrew all of our forces from Afghanistan, it was only a matter of time before the country became a safe haven for terrorism once again,” Graham added.
Rep. Mike Waltz (R-Fla.), a former Green Beret who served in Afghanistan, wondered why al-Zawahiri felt secure enough to go to the city of more than 4 million people in the weeks prior to his death.
”Number one, what was the leader of al Qaeda doing in Kabul?” he said on Fox News.
“And from what I’m hearing from a number of folks, both in Afghanistan and in the intelligence community, he’s been there for some time. So what did the Taliban promise him? Why did he feel so comfortable to really be out in the open?”
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, commended the terror leader’s killing, but added in a statement that al-Zawahiri’s death showed that “the American people were lied to by President Biden.
“Al Qaeda is not ‘gone’ from Afghanistan as Biden falsely claimed a year ago,” McCaul said. “And worse, the head of al Qaeda, who was one of the masterminds behind 9/11, was given safe harbor in the capitol city of Kabul — just as al Qaeda was given safe harbor there before 9/11. Our chaotic and deadly withdrawal from Afghanistan opened the door for al Qaeda to operate freely inside the country to conduct external operations against the United States and our allies again.”
Al-Zawahiri emerged as the leader of al Qaeda following bin Laden’s death in 2011 at the hands of SEAL Team Six in Pakistan.
Along with helping to plot the 9/11 attacks, al-Zawahiri, who had a $25 million bounty on his head, was also behind the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 that killed 17 American sailors and the attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people and wounded thousands more.
In announcing al-Zawahiri’s death, Biden told Americans in a televised address, “Justice has been delivered and this terrorist leader is no more.”
“Now 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 said.
Biden went on to say that the US will “never again allow Afghanistan to become a terrorist safe haven, because he is gone.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) called for the Biden administration to brief Congress on the killing of al-Zawahiri “to discuss the resurgence of al Qaeda in the region following his disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan.”
Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, said the strike taking out al-Zawahiri shows that al Qaeda remains a force in Afghanistan.
“When US troops withdrew from Afghanistan last year, President Biden claimed al Qaeda was gone from Afghanistan. This strike tells us otherwise,” Turner said in a statement.
“The United States has brought justice to al-Zawahiri and the world is safer for it. The president must now turn his attention to the rising threats within Afghanistan,” he continued.
Biden’s military withdrawal from Afghanistan a year ago this month was marked by scenes of chaos as Afghans flocked to Kabul’s airport by the thousands, seeking to exit the country before the Taliban regained control.
In the confusion, a suicide bomber affiliated with ISIS attacked the perimeter of the airport on Aug. 26, killing 13 American service members and more than 160 Afghans.
“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 in Afghanistan to protect America from terrorists who seek to do us harm,” Biden said.
“And I made a promise to the American people that we’d continue to conduct effective counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan and beyond. We’ve done just that.”