U.S. Kills Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda Founder and Leader

A precision drone strike on a balcony in Kabul took out a longtime nemesis.

WaPo (“U.S. kills al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in drone strike in Kabul“):

The United States has killed Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda and one of the world’s most-wanted terrorists, who, alongside the group’s founder, Osama bin Laden, oversaw the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President Biden announced Monday evening.

Zawahiri was killed in a CIA drone strike in Kabul over the weekend, according to U.S. officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence.

When U.S. forces withdrew from Afghanistan last August, Biden administration officials said they would retain capability for “over-the-horizon” attacks from elsewhere on terrorist forces inside Afghanistan. The attack against Zawahiri is the first known counterterrorism strike there since the withdrawal.

Speaking in a live television address from a balcony at the White House, Biden announced that days ago he had authorized a strike to kill Zawahiri. “Justice has been delivered, and this terrorist leader is no more,” Biden said.

The strike occurred at 9:48 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters on the operation. A drone fired two Hellfire missiles at Zawahiri as he stepped onto the balcony of a safe house in Kabul, where he had been living with members of his family, the official said.


The intelligence community had tracked Zawahiri to the safe house and spent months confirming his identity and developing a “pattern of life,” tracking his movements and behavior, the official said. Intelligence personnel also constructed a model of the safe house, which was used to brief Biden on how a strike could be carried out in such a way that it lessened the chances of killing any other occupants or civilians, the official said, adding that intelligence agencies have concluded that Zawahiri was the only person killed in the strike.

“The United States continues to demonstrate its resolve and capacity to defend Americans from those who seek to do it harm,” Biden said, making it “clear again [that] no matter how long it takes, no matter how you hide … the United States will find you and seek you out.”

Senior administration national security officials were briefed in early April on the information that Zawahiri was believed to be living in the house, which he never left, the official said.

Biden received updates throughout May and June, and on July 1, he was briefed in the White House Situation Room by key Cabinet members and advisers, including CIA Director William J. Burns, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, National Counterterrorism Center Director Christine Abizaid and national security adviser Jake Sullivan, the official said.

The president met again with his top advisers on July 25 and continued to press the intelligence agencies on how they planned to conduct a strike with minimal civilian casualties, the official said. All his advisers “strongly recommended” the strike, which Biden then authorized, the official said.

Senior members of the Haqqani Taliban faction were also aware that Zawahiri was living in the house and took steps after the strike to conceal his presence, the official said, calling the terrorist leader’s presence in Kabul a violation of the Doha Agreement signed between the United States and the Taliban in 2020.


Zawahiri, whose face was familiar to millions of Americans from his videotaped diatribes against the United States, played an important role in turning al-Qaeda into a more lethal and ambitious terrorism organization, according to many of the investigators who hunted its leadership for decades. By merging his Egyptian-centric organization with bin Laden’s, the group became a far more dangerous and global terrorism group, analysts said. Zawahiri was indicted on a charge of the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, attacks that first highlighted the growing threat from al-Qaeda.

Both bin Laden and Zawahiri escaped U.S. forces in Afghanistan in late 2001 after the 9/11 attacks, and Zawahiri’s whereabouts had long been a mystery. Bin Laden was killed in a raid by U.S. forces in Pakistan in 2011.

After bin Laden’s death, Zawahiri became the figurehead leader of al-Qaeda, but he was a hunted man in charge of a decimated organization. Lacking bin Laden’s loyal following, Zawahiri tried to command far-flung terrorist groups that often ignored his decrees and rejected his advice. In particular, he was overshadowed by the rise of the Islamic State and its bloody dominion for several years over parts of Syria and Iraq.

But with much of the group’s original leadership captured or killed, Zawahiri was perhaps the most visible reminder of al-Qaeda’s grim legacy.

“I just got chills up and down my spine,” said Charles G. Wolf, whose wife was killed at the World Trade Center in the terrorist attacks, when he learned about the U.S. strike. “It’s great to hear … I’m sure there will be someone else to step in his shoes, but I think it sends a signal that we are still going after terrorists regardless of politics.”

AP (“Biden: Killing of al-Qaida leader is long-sought ‘justice’“):

President Joe Biden announced Monday that al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Kabul, an operation he said delivered justice and hopefully “one more measure of closure” to families of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

The president said in an evening address from the White House that U.S. intelligence officials tracked al-Zawahri to a home in downtown Kabul where he was hiding out with his family. The president approved the operation last week and it was carried out Sunday.

Al-Zawahri and the better-known Osama bin Laden plotted the 9/11 attacks that brought many ordinary Americans their first knowledge of al-Qaida. Bin Laden was killed in Pakistan on May 2, 2011, in operation carried out by U.S. Navy SEALs after a nearly decade-long hunt.

As for Al-Zawahri, Biden said, “He will never again, never again, allow Afghanistan to become a terrorist safe haven because he is gone and we’re going to make sure that nothing else happens.”

“This terrorist leader is no more,” he added.

The operation is a significant counterterrorism win for the Biden administration just 11 months after American troops left the country after a two-decade war.


Al-Zawahri’s death eliminates the figure who more than anyone shaped al-Qaida, first as bin Laden’s deputy since 1998, then as his successor. Together, he and bin Laden turned the jihadi movement’s guns to target the United States, carrying out the deadliest attack ever on American soil — the Sept. 11 suicide hijackings.

The house Al-Zawahri was in when he was killed was owned by a top aide to senior Taliban leader Sirajuddin Haqqani, according to a senior intelligence official. The official also added that a CIA ground team and aerial reconnaissance conducted after the drone strike confirmed al-Zawahri’s death.


U.S. military officials, including Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have said al-Qaida was trying to reconstitute in Afghanistan, where it faced limited threats from the now-ruling Taliban. Military leaders have warned that the group still aspired to attack the U.S.

After his killing, the White House underscored that al-Zawahri had continued to be a dangerous figure. The senior administration official said al-Zawahri had continued to “provide strategic direction,” including urging attacks on the U.S., while in hiding. He had also prioritized to members of the terror network that the United States remained al-Qaida’s “primary enemy,” the official said.

AP (“Watching al-Qaida chief’s ‘pattern of life’ key to his death“):

As the sun was rising in Kabul on Sunday, two Hellfire missiles fired by a U.S. drone ended Ayman al-Zawahri’s decade-long reign as the leader of al-Qaida. The seeds of the audacious counterterrorism operation had been planted over many months.

U.S. officials had built a scale model of the safe house where al-Zawahri had been located, and brought it into the White House Situation Room to show President Joe Biden. They knew al-Zawahri was partial to sitting on the home’s balcony.

They had painstakingly constructed “a pattern of life,” as one official put it. They were confident he was on the balcony when the missiles flew, officials said.

Years of efforts by U.S. intelligence operatives under four presidents to track al-Zawahri and his associates paid dividends earlier this year, Biden said, when they located Osama bin Laden’s longtime No. 2 — a co-planner of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S. — and ultimate successor at the house in Kabul.


But the lead on his whereabouts was only the first step. Confirming al-Zawahri’s identity, devising a strike in a crowded city that wouldn’t recklessly endanger civilians, and ensuring the operation wouldn’t set back other U.S. priorities took months to fall into place.

That effort involved independent teams of analysts reaching similar conclusions about the probability of al-Zawahri’s presence, the scale mock-up and engineering studies of the building to evaluate the risk to people nearby, and the unanimous recommendation of Biden’s advisers to go ahead with the strike.

“Clear and convincing,” Biden called the evidence. “I authorized the precision strike that would remove him from the battlefield once and for all. This measure was carefully planned, rigorously, to minimize the risk of harm to other civilians.”

The consequences of getting it wrong on this type of judgment call were devastating a year ago this month, when a U.S. drone strike during the chaotic withdrawal of American forces killed 10 innocent family members, seven of them children.

Biden ordered what officials called a “tailored airstrike,” designed so that the two missiles would destroy only the balcony of the safe house where the terrorist leader was holed up for months, sparing occupants elsewhere in the building.

A senior U.S. administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the strike planning, said al-Zawahri was identified on “multiple occasions, for sustained periods of time” on the balcony where he died.

The official said “multiple streams of intelligence” convinced U.S. analysts of his presence, having eliminated “all reasonable options” other than his being there.

While al-Zawahri is identified in most press accounts as a “lieutenant” to bin Laden, as well as his successor, that really understates his significance. Al Qaeda doesn’t, in my view, become al Qaeda until he merges his Egypt-based organization with bin Laden’s in 1998 and, crucially, issues the “World Islamic Front Against Jews and Crusaders” fatwa later that year. That turned a run-of-the-mill Islamist terrorist group aimed at apostate domestic leaders to a fight against the “far enemy,” the Western powers who were propping up those leaders. By most accounts, al-Zawahri was the brains behind that strategy.

Whether killing him almost 21 years after the 9/11 attacks and just weeks after his 71st birthday brings much justice is a question for philosophers more than national security strategists. But it appears that the Biden team bent over backward to ensure that collateral damage was contained to near zero and sending the message that we can still operate “over the horizon” whenever we want is useful.

At the same time, it demonstrates the futility of our efforts in Afghanistan. Few, indeed, argued that the United States should not have gone to war after 9/11 and the refusal of the Taliban government to hand over al Qaeda leadership they were harboring.* But the notion that the only way to prevent another 9/11 was to turn Afghanistan into Sweden was always misguided. First and most obviously, because the task was unachievable, at least at a cost in time, blood, and treasure we were willing to pay. Second, because al Qaeda had already demonstrated that they could operate from pretty much any backwater. Third, as demonstrated yet again by this strike, the United States doesn’t need boots on the ground in a given locality to kill a few bad guys.


*Longtime interlocutor and erstwhile OTB contributor Dave Schuler is the only serious voice that comes to mind who argued that from the outset.

FILED UNDER: National Security, Terrorism, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Zawahiri, whose face was familiar to millions of Americans from his videotaped diatribes against the United States,

    This kind of stuff cracks me up. Really? Millions of Americans watched videos of his rantings in a language they can’t even begin to understand? More like millions Americans kind of sort of know his face from seeing it on the internet once or twice a year and sans the headdress and obligatory AK-47 in his pics would more likely peg him as one of the old man who play chess at the park on Wednesdays, never guessing he was one the world’s most wanted terrorists.

    As to “it demonstrates the futility of our efforts in Afghanistan.”

    That was obvious before the first palate of cash was airdropped into that hell hole, and repeatedly demonstrated by every half-assed tactical play we made there.

    Longtime interlocutor and erstwhile OTB contributor Dave Schuler is the only serious voice that comes to mind who argued that from the outset.

    I was also against the idiotic “invasion” of Afghanistan, even before the smoke cleared from Manhattan, but I’m not a serious voice.

    eta: I am put in mind of the old saw about hammers and nails, that if the only tool you have is a hammer… The sad part is we have lost of other tools, but the American instinct is always to reach for the “manly” hammer first.

  2. James Joyner says:


    Millions of Americans watched videos of his rantings in a language they can’t even begin to understand?

    Presumably, they, like me, saw short clips of said videos on American television news programs, whether captioned or voice-overed.

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner: Could you have picked him out of a lineup?

  4. Kathy says:

    I saw this item yesterday just before going to bed. I recognized the name, but I confess I was surprised he wasn’t killed long ago.

  5. JohnSF says:

    Rather knocks on the head the whole argument we heard: “Taliban are no longer allied with al Qaida; they extra-double pinky promised at Doha, cross their blackened hearts and hope to die.”
    I continue to believe the invasion of Afghanistan was entirely justifiable, and sensible.

    To imagine any US government, or indeed any state with the capacity to react, would not respond militarily to an attack on the scale of 9/11, is highly unlikely.
    If anything could justify military response, it would be such an act.

    The post-invasion policy was a whole different matter.
    Trying to impose the rule of Kabul on the Pushtun of Kandahar and Helmand, as if Afghanistan was, or could be, a modern unitary state, was a miscalculation.
    Trying to do so while also eliminating poppy production in those provinces was stupid.

    “The United States doesn’t need boots on the ground in a given locality to kill a few bad guys.”

    Pretty certainly someone had some sneakers sneaking around on the ground, to provide the ID confirmation and targeting.
    Unless you think they picked him out using overhead imagery in city with some hundreds of thousands of bearded guys with turbans?

    Not necessarily, or even likely, American shoes, though.
    This interesting coincidence caught my attention:

    (Pakistan ) Chief of the Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa recently approached the US administration with the explicit permission of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif for an early disbursement of funds from the International Monetary Fund.

    A favour for a favour?

    The one thing that works in favour of the US in this situation is that the Taliban are as incompetent at securing their airspace as they are at most other aspects of being a government.

  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Just in case you were wondering:

    CIA Likely Used ‘Ninja Bomb’ to Kill Terrorist Leader Ayman al-Zawahiri

    The U.S. drone strike that killed Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader of the terrorist group Al Qaeda, over the weekend was conducted by the CIA using what was likely the Hellfire R9X missile, according to the New Y0rk Times and India’s Hindustan Times. The missile is unique for not having any explosive material and instead deploys six retractable blades, which has earned it nicknames like the “flying Ginsu” and the Ninja bomb.

    The missile’s existence was first publicly revealed in 2019 by a story in the Wall Street Journal, which noted that the missile has been in use since at least February of 2017 and was being developed as early as 2011. The R9X is supposedly better at avoiding collateral damage than a typical Hellfire missile since it doesn’t explode, and kills using pure kinetic energy. It’s kind of like an anvil falling from the sky, as it’s often described.

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @JohnSF: To imagine any US government, or indeed any state with the capacity to react, would not respond militarily to an attack on the scale of 9/11, is highly unlikely.
    If anything could justify military response, it would be such an act.

    They were any number of military responses that could have been taken. Invading was just the most expensive and moronic response.

  8. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Biden kills terrorists, Trump golfs with them.
    In a world were MAGA exists, be like Joe Biden.

  9. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Great win for the US.
    Pakistan continues to be a huge unsolved problem.

  10. Lounsbury says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Really, what were they pray tell?

    @JohnSF: Indeed the invasion of Afghanistan in support of the Northern Alliance as well then contemporaneously on its backfoot after the also al-Qaeda supported assasination of Ahmed Shah Mahmoud, was well justified, and had it not transformed into a grossly inappropriately “we are going to do a post WWII reconstruction as like Germany and Japan” using two industrial nation-states as templates for thinking, it would have been fine.

    A path of Afghan Loya Jirga not a Western “build a developed country government with unsustainable overheads as well as without any cultural governance roots” was perfectly plausible in the early days. If done, the likely better odds for an end result looking less Talebany although not pleasing to the crunchy granola development community.

    Rather knocks on the head the whole argument we heard: “Taliban are no longer allied with al Qaida; they extra-double pinky promised at Doha, cross their blackened hearts and hope to die.”

    Yes, rather the confirmation they lie as they breathe in this area, and some death from the air for them should have some salutory sobering effect….

  11. Slugger says:

    I’m not sure about this killing. Nobody has gotten to the bottom of 9/11. We may have acted prematurely.

  12. JohnSF says:

    Well, nuclear weapons could have go the job done.
    For an arbitrary value of “done”.

    Purely special forces operations based within Afghanistan would also have been “invasion”; just a smaller scale one. And potentially horribly vulnerable to things going wrong, absent real power in place.
    Special operations incursions based outside Afghanistan perhaps an alternative; but dependent on the neighbours being co-operative, which is far from guaranteed.

  13. JohnSF says:

    It looks like there may have been more than one strike; with various reports (some contradictory) about them:

    “According to sources, 12 Arab fighters were killed in Wazir Akbar Khan close to the residence of Qari Zainudin, whose right hand man of Sirajuddin Haqqani and director of his office. Two AQ offices are shifted to the Arg from Shar-e-Naw after this strike.”

    Taliban official WhatsApp audio message, “2 drone strikes targeted a house in Wazir Akbar Khan close 2Ghazanfar bank where Mawli Zianullah also resides as well as Taliban Kabul police chief Mawli Hamza. We are not being allowed. But Mawli Hamza told us, no one was hurt in strikes.”

    WhatsApp audio message from a Taliban official about drone strikes in Kabul- chief of staff for interior minister Mawli Zainudeen and Taliban police chief for Kabul Mawli Hamza both live in the area behind Ghazanfar bank. According to some reports Mawli Hamza home was targeted.

  14. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Lounsbury: Really, what were they pray tell?

    That’s a funny thing to say in a thread about one of those many options. But you’re good at ignoring the things that don’t fit into your neat little world. Hell, you still hold onto the fiction that some kind of victory was possible even after 20 years, thousands of lives, and $2.26 trillion dollars that ended up accomplishing exactly nothing. It’s still a 14th century society in a 21st century world.

  15. CSK says:

    Yes, it’s from Rawstory (via NBC), but it still has the ring of truth. Trump never wanted to remove al-Zawahiri…because he didn’t recognize the name.


  16. Lounsbury says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Options available in 2001. Not 2022. Magical thinking.

    you still hold onto the fiction that some kind of victory was possible even after 20 years, thousands of lives, and $2.26 trillion dollars that ended up accomplishing exactly nothing. It’s still a 14th century society in a 21st century

    What a strange thing to say, where you get this idea rather escapes. I suppose you are unabel to distuinguish between the concept of invading and occupation. Or post-invasion occupation versus handing over to Loya Jirga / Northern Alliance.

    Of course if you are unable to distinguish between the option sets, this will lead you to blundering confusion. Of course the path chosen was completely infeasible and doomed from day 1. But it was not the only potential post-invasion path.

    (and it is not a 14th century society – 14th century Afghan society as documented in history was rather nicer, what it is is a 21st century (or maybe 20th century) society built on a certain ideology that is fundamentally modern, not 14th century)

  17. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Joe Biden is so tough that when he gets Covid other leaders die.

  18. Lounsbury says:

    @JohnSF: Indeed as various lessons from colonial history teach, in re unsupported special forces flying column, can go rather nastily wrong and need regardless heavy local support. Given the state of Northern Alliance at that time, dangerous gamble.

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: quite good that one.

    The problem in the end was not the invasion, it was the magical thinking of re-creating WWII reconstruction.

  19. Gustopher says:

    I’m glad he’s dead. The world is a better and likely safer place.

    I understand we don’t want to blow up children three doors down, but all the people who were helping him hide, and who were regularly meeting with him… they’re still there.

    There are reports that the sons of the Taliban interior minister were regularly meeting Al-Zawahiri. If so, it would have been nice to get them too*.

    A price needs to be paid for harboring terrorists, and that price needs to be higher than simply having to take care of the body of a dead terrorist. (That price should also be less than a full scale invasion.)

    *: Is that a war crime? I’m going to put it at a war misdemeanor at worst, plus we don’t have a declared war anyway.

  20. Scott says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: As I read somewhere else: Biden kills terrorists; Trump invites them to golf.

  21. CSK says:

    Ah, come on. Give Trump a break. After all, as he said: “What the Saudis are doing for golf is so great.”

    Priorities, please.

  22. Lounsbury says:

    @Gustopher: No lifting sanctions on the Taleban regime, starting point of course, it was perhaps arguable before the clear news they are back to their old games – I confess being willing to credit they had learned something from their years in the wilderness. That was evidently wrong.

    Some fear of death from the air where there is clear enough confirmation of actual activity. To sober them, they got drunk from their own agit-prop on the withdrawal (which remains the correct if painful decision).

  23. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @James Joyner:

    Given the population size of the nation, it’s certainly possible, even likely, that “millions of Americans” watched enough news to have seen a clip about al Qaida, maybe even featuring this yahoo. Still the claim that “millions” are familiar with the story is more on the lines of FG’s “lots of people are saying” or “I saw hundreds of people in NJ cheering as the WTC went down.”

  24. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @JohnSF: Justifiable? Certainly. Sensible? Not even close enough to wave at on the horizon. The whole “Afghanistan is where empires go to die” meme is argument enough against sensible.

  25. JohnSF says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    “Afghanistan is where empires go to die” meme

    I know that meme.
    It’s nonsense.
    I can list off the top of my head a dozen empires who conquered and ruled Afghanistan without much difficulty.

    Albeit they didn’t try to reshape Afghanistan as a liberal democracy (USA) or as a “peoples democratic republic” (USSR)

    But at any rate it misses the basic point: after 9/11, the United States wished, with considerable justification, to extirpate al Qaida.
    There was no way of attempting that without a invasion of Afghanistan, whether small or large.
    (Unless you want to go full bore scorched earth, which is an option best avoided)

    Attempting to impose a Coalition/Kabul rule on the Ghilzai Pushtun provinces after the stomping was done was the massive miscalculation.

  26. Lounsbury says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: The meme arises from repeated failure in the modern era at occupation. Punitive expeditions

    The post-invasion policy was an act of hubris in action worthy of the Soviet failure (although at least the Soviets had a proper working model from thei conquest of the Central Asian republics. A genocidal one but a workable model, had the last leaders pursued).

    The USA did not being so fully captive of its love affaire with WWII, the lens by which all things foreign are examined.

    The invasion itself was perfectly sensible as a punitive expedition. The afterwards was not sensible.

  27. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:


    The problem in the end was not the invasion, it was the magical thinking of re-creating WWII reconstruction.

    The people responsible for the invasion are the same people who ended abortion. They never think about what they were going to do once it happens. They are the dog that finally catches the car.

  28. dazedandconfused says:


    I wouldn’t idly dismiss the possibility the Taliban cooperated in this to rid themselves of some domestic fundi-competition. AQ’s world ambitions let them to a catastrophe that lasted 20 years after all.

    It can be said there are two types of religious fanatics: The kind that seek to change the world and those who seek to seal themselves off from the world. The Taliban is traditionally the latter.

  29. JohnSF says:

    The question is always: “which Taliban?”
    They are a coalition of factions some “tribal” leaderships, clans, extended families, religous groups and sub-groups, opportunists, fanatics, lunatics, criminals, Pushtun particularists, the Haqqani mob, Pakistani ISI proxies, etc etc.

    The possibility of some faction setting up a hit on the friend of another is far from impossible.
    Especially if they were using the ISI as middlemen.

    From Democracynow:

    And we are being told, actually, now by multiple sources that the house belonged to the chief of staff for Sirajuddin Haqqani, who’s the interior minister of the Taliban. And the police chief of Kabul, someone called Mawli Hamza, also resided in the same street, and the Haqqanis frequently visited this area. Now, the Haqqani Network has had a generational, historical and ideological relationship with al-Qaeda, starting from the 1980s. There has been many intermarriages.

    Both Haqqani guys and “Arabs” reported as being common in the neighborhood recently.

    Possible: ISI used Haqqanis as an unwitting intelligence source to finger a target for the US; or possibly the ISI/Haqqani relationship has turned sour again.

    In the wilderness of mirrors, who knows?

  30. Kurtz says:


    blundering confusion

    Not the only way to be led on that path.

    It’s kind of absurd to think that handing Afghanistan over to a Loya Jirga rather than nation-building via occupation would magically eliminate pockets of fundamentalism or areas in which harboring fundamentalists makes some sort of sense. More than likely there would be a series of grand councils that all failed. Look to some of your own posts in recent threads as to why that may be the case…

    These posts seem directly at odds with the points you were making in a recent thread about shared identity in the African countries in which you have worked. Maybe I’m wrong, and I’m sure you will have a response with over-wrought language and cheesy insults that only amuse the choir but simultaneously make your post unclear.

    Oh, and that crunchy granola dig in your earlier post reveals how little you understand the Left, despite your relentless ridicule. Here’s a tip you will ignore: addressing one’s own bias should come before addressing the bias of an adversary or interlocutor.

  31. Kurtz says:


    In the wilderness of mirrors, who knows?

    Yeah. This. It’s hard enough for a person in, say America, to understand the perspectives and political environment of a similar nation, say, the UK. (see: the people who insist they know people from the UK who hate the NIH and assume that opinion is the only one that exists.) Shit, it’s pretty difficult for Americans to understand other Americans whether the difference is regional, religious, etc.

    Trying to understand an area with a different historical patterns, social norms, language, just to name a few differences is pretty much impossible. I say area, because Afghanistan is a failed state. Maybe a better way to put it is it’s a non-state, or if you will, a nominal state, at best.

  32. Lounsbury says:


    It’s kind of absurd to think that handing Afghanistan over to a Loya Jirga rather than nation-building via occupation would magically eliminate pockets of fundamentalism or areas in which harboring fundamentalists makes some sort of sense.

    It is indeed absurd to think such a thing. But then I did not write anything like “eliminate pockets of fundamentalism” nor even “eliminate fundamentalism” (whatever an American non-Muslim might mean by such, although I suppose some vague confusion about what it is and roots). Not being infected in any fashion by American messianic thinking, it is entirely escaping me how you manage to read such into the bland observation that the Loya Jirga process would have been the process to use that “eliminate fundamentalism” was somehow a subject.

    NeoDeobandi fundamentalism is part of Afghanistan, most importantly and particularly Pashtun Afghanistan. elimating it is senseless, unless you want to follow the dear Soviet model of the pacification of Central Asia. But it’s a wee bit genocidal for your tastes, I am sure. Perhaps the somewhat less openly genocidal Chinese model may appeal for its modernist pretence.

    As for your judgement on probable result, perhaps but then if you think fundamentalism (presuably Pashtun neodeobandism) is to be eliminated in Afghanistan, I would rather question the basis of even the glimmering of an understanding.

    Now if the resolution is merely a Loya Jirga façade on an American process with American goals, well yes that would have failed too, but the question of “success” post-invasion rather needs to be defined before asserting failure. My judgement would be success for any vaguely workable coalition of the non-Taleban forces that does not fall into open civil war in the first year.

    Oh, and that crunchy granola dig in your earlier post reveals how little you understand the Left, despite your relentless ridicule.

    Really, crunchy granola is what gets under you skin? How very queer. Funny but very queer.

    As I have the annoying experience with the crunchy granola Green Left constantly in my actual work, amusing sensitivity. Of course not all the Left is either greeny or crunch granola, lest you be confused on my understanding.

  33. JohnSF says:

    Can’t speak for Lounsbury, but I’d also have favoured the Loya Jirga route (and if possible the restoration of the monarchy, but that’s at least in part just to annoy Americans).

    Would there have pockets of fundamentalism?
    Almost certainly, but there is a reasonable likelihood they could be contained if informed that getting your fundamental on outside your own patch will bring the hammer down on your heads.

    At that time the Taliban(s) had little chance of surviving absent the support of the sympathetic Ghilzai Pushtun trial hierarchies, and/or the Pakistani ISI.

    Bribing tribal leaderships into a preference for a quiet life otherwise left alone, might have worked: it’s how the old monarchy functioned a lot of the time.
    And for that matter how the British empire generally handled the frontier tribes/clans.

    The really tricky bit would have been Washington seriously twisting arms, and keeping them twisted, in Islamabad, in order to get the ISI to back off.
    Not losing interest a year later.

    And what the Pakistani price might have been; there would have been one.
    A guarantee of Indian exclusion, perhaps?
    (More ill-gotten safely funneled into Swiss bank accounts and British real estate pretty much goes without saying.)

  34. Kurtz says:


    The point is that the invasion and occupation as a whole was aimed at eliminating Afghanistan as a haven for AQ and similar groups. Convening a grand council would hardly fulfill that goal. Notice both you and I seem to agree on the difficulty of attempting to affect Pashtun culture. (I, perhaps naively, expected that you understood that.)

    I also agree with you and@JohnSF that the Loya Jirga route would be a better option.

    But my argument doesn’t hinge on it being a better option. Because it seems reasonable to think that the stated goals of the invasion and attempted nation-building would lead policy-makers to think that wouldn’t work without establishing some semblance of centralized control over Pashtun areas. I’m just not sure that a better option=good option based on political realities in America.

    As far as the Messianic American invectives, I’m positive that I don’t fit that particular mold. And you are proving my point made in the post agreeing with @JohnSF I wrote subsequently to my response to you. What I’m trying to get through to you is you are very much overconfident in your own knowledge (as deep as it may be) and conclusions (as well compensated they may be). Rather like that dude (intentional use) who launched the war we are discussing.

  35. Kurtz says:


    Tl;dr: the three of us likely agree in principal on a lot of this. But I think we may be looking at it from different directions.

    See above. I’ve made similar arguments about Pashtuns on this very forum, I think during the withdrawal last year. FTR, my main point is much less about our preferences, and much more about political realities in the US. Military action was inevitable (see below). Once the boots hit the ground, options close. And I understand the inclination to distrust blowing shit up, withdrawing, and then sending aid.

    And your point about ISI is right on, by the way. In fact, losing interest was likely some combination of incompetence, overconfidence, and focus shifting to…

    If memory serves, granola crunching in 2001, to the extent it existed, was done in a dark corner with mouths closed. It got much louder in 2003 wrt Iraq, but we see how well that worked. And my guess is by late 2002, the shift in focus away from Afghanistan led us to the next two decades. But that may be giving too much credit where it isn’t due.

    As a general criticism, and to align it with a recent piece by Hawley, I think much of this flows from US policymakers trying to maintain a unipolar position in a world that will inevitably erode the foundations of that status.

    That seems untenable to this observor. I can recommend some of William V. Spanos’s work on American foreign policy on these points.

    I hope my position is clearer to you and @Lounsbury.

    Really, crunchy granola is what gets under you skin? How very queer. Funny but very queer.

    As I have the annoying experience with the crunchy granola Green Left constantly in my actual work, amusing sensitivity. Of course not all the Left is either greeny or crunch granola, lest you be confused on my understanding.

    Only because I happen to like granola. 😉 Even if it was at my expense, I’m glad I was able to make your day slightly better with a chuckle.

    But to be fair to me here, I hope you understand why I would get frustrated by that comment. It’s on-brand for you, no? And I may have laughed at it if it wasn’t your signature around here. Most of the time, the tone is insulting, not playful.

    Anyway, I do my best to try to understand people in general. It’s rarely a fruitless endeavor, but I can say with certainty, that your posts are tasty and well worth my time spent picking from the tree. Just cut out the generalizations, potshots, and false equivalencies and our communication would bear sweeter noms.

  36. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @JohnSF: I agree that the invasion was justifiable. Sadly, invasion always has a follow up period where one answers the question “now that the dog has caught the bus, what does he do with it.” This phase is were “sensible” comes into play. I don’t see that there was any sensible action to take after ousting the Taliban–for a month or so (based on the aftermath of 2o years of attempted solution). Because I’m cynical, I never imagined that there was any smart afterward action to take. Leaving was going to allow the Taliban (and al Qaida) to resurect the system they’d installed. Modern nations don’t do suzerainty well, and the US might well be worse at it than other nations because we reject the concept of sovereign wealth on its face. I’ve not studied enough ancient history to know what other sorts of conquest you might be referring to and in the absence of details, while I take you at your word, I don’t conceptualize your word as meaningful.

    The invasion may well have been justified and necessary, but it just wasn’t smart. Doing dumb things always costs. (It’s the one thing conservatives are still right about.)

    @Lounsbury: WA! This IS a red-letter day. You and I agree on something. I should get a pile of rocks to put someplace as a memorial. 😉