The killing of Al-Zawahiri: Al-Qaeda situational assessment


On the 31st of July 2022, the US killed the leader of Al-Qaeda (AQ) Ayman al-Zawahiri. The death of the AQ leader will pose challenges to AQ. It is likely that his death put even more pressure on the already strained relationship between the Taliban and the US, given a US airstrike killed that Zawahiri took place in Kabul. This adds even more fuel to the fire that the Taliban is still harbouring AQ.

Key Judgment 1: It is highly likely that AQ’s new leader will be a more charismatic leader than Zawahiri helping AQ to continue its attacks in the next 6 months.

  • The next leader of AQ will be Saif al-Adel or Abu Abd al-Karim al-Masri. Both of whom are among the more senior AQ figures still alive. (source)
  • The next man likely to be AQ’s new emir is al-Adel. A man who has convincingly shown his ability to conduct terror operations. Having been involved in the 1998 bombing of US embassies. (source)
  • Furthermore, the West and the US fear that al-Adel’s charisma will allow AQ to indoctrinate more members to its cause. (source)
  • Following Al-Zawahiri’s death the FBI director has raised concerns that AQ poses a threat to US interests and those attacks will emanate from Afghanistan. (source)
  • The US State Department has also warned of possible retaliation attacks from AQ against the US following the AQ leader’s death. (source)

Key Judgement 2: It is highly likely that the death of Zawahiri will cause tensions to rise between the Taliban and the US in the next 6 months.

  • Following the killing of Al-Zawahiri in Kabul, the Taliban has accused the US of breaking the Doha agreement. The pact that facilitated the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. (source)
  • The US Secretary of State Andrew Blinken has consequently accused the Taliban of sheltering Al-Qaeda following the killing of Al-Zawahiri. (source)
  • In its official statement following the targeted killing of Al-Zawahiri, the Taliban has threatened the US with unspecified consequences. (source)
  • Furthermore, the US seems willing to carry out further strikes within Afghanistan. On the 6th of August 2022, another drone strike hit the Ghazni province of Afghanistan. (source)

Key Judgement 3: It is likely that the Taliban will continue to shelter AQ over the next 6 months as it looks to ride out this crisis.

  • Al-Zawahiri was being sheltered by the Taliban in Kabul according to the US. Al-Zawahiri was killed in the home of the Islamic Emirates interior minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani. (source)
  • The deep ties that AQ has with the Haqqani network will ensure the Taliban’s support as it looks to consolidate following the death of Al-Zawahiri. (source)
  • Following Al-Zawahiri’s death we should not expect the Taliban or the Haqqani network to sever ties. They need each other. The Taliban needs AQ’s manpower. (source)

Intel cut-off date is 24 August 2022

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