Al Zawahiri’s death cements Biden’s counterterrorism gains as he aspired to rein in China and Russia | International


Taliban security forces patrol the surroundings of the house where Al Zawahiri died, this Tuesday in Kabul.STRINGER (EFE)

With the death of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the president of the United States, Joe Biden, scores a point in a term that has weakened in popularity, despite some recent achievements. This occurs before the tightrope of November: the mid-term elections, in which the Democrats could lose control of Congress. Almost a year after the hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan, and with the blush still fresh that his meeting with Mohamed bin Salmán, the Saudi heir to whom the CIA attributes the order to kill critical journalist Jamal Khashoggi, supposed, the president has shown that the United States The US no longer needs to deploy thousands of troops to distant countries to protect its interests from the global terrorist threat. But also that he is still the policeman of the free world, an arduous task in a red-hot global situation, with Russia and China as the main antagonists.

Few now remember the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, which raised the ghost of Vietnam and resulted in the loss of 13 soldiers in an ISIS attack. Nor the “eternal wars”, as the president described them to justify the return of troops on a combat mission. But the threat of the terrorist hydra, be it Al Qaeda or the Islamic State (ISIS), is viscous and persistent, and no matter how many pieces Washington collects, there will always be others. The Democratic Administration plans to deploy 500 soldiers in Somalia to fight against Al Shabab, the local Al Qaeda franchise, as a long-term reinforcement, and without clear exit plans, of its anti-terrorist mission in the strategic region of East Africa. Biden is the third president to pursue a counterterrorism strategy in Somalia with no clear endgame idea, save for short-term risk reduction. After the Afghan hornet’s nest, the Pentagon is now delving into the swamp of the Horn of Africa.

Throughout his year and a half in office, Biden has scored modest successes in the fight against terrorism. If his predecessor Donald Trump had the honor, and the publicity, of announcing the death of the ISIS leader, Abubaker al-Baghdadi, in 2019, it fell to the Democrat to announce that of Maher al-Aqal, ISIS leader in Syria and one of the the five supreme leaders of the jihadist group. The announcement of the execution of Al Aqal coincided, not by chance, with the start of a tour of the Middle East in which the president rehabilitated the Saudi kingdom, which he had promised to turn into a pariah for instigating the dismemberment of Khashoggi, in exchange that Riyadh opened the oil tap. Saudi Arabia has applauded this Tuesday the death of Al Zawahiri, due to the threat —doctrinal, not terrorist— that Al Qaeda has always posed for its interpretation of Islam. Meanwhile, the evident rapprochement of the Saudis with Israel and their regional preponderance make the desert kingdom the antithesis of the pariah that Biden had promised in his election campaign.

Last February, Abu Ibrahim al Hashemi al Quraishi, the top leader of ISIS, blew himself up during an attack by the US Army in Syria, where around a thousand soldiers remain on a support mission. The drone war has been perfected since 2001, without being able to avoid the long list of collateral victims that it leaves behind, such as the dozen members of the same family killed in Kabul in August in an attack by mistake, another opprobrium to add to the chaotic rout.

But Washington’s victory over Al Qaeda is also relative. Al Zawahiri’s strenuous efforts to maintain the organization’s relevance have foundered, despite sporadic attacks, in a region in full transformation: from the Arab Springs that started in 2011 to Israel’s current alliance with some Arab countries against Iran. A region that Biden was trying to sidestep to focus on his strategy of stopping China, amid growing tension in the Taiwan Strait, and Russia. Despite everything, this area of ​​the world repeatedly returns to its agenda. “We will continue to carry out counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan and beyond,” the president recalled on Monday.

Far from considering the Afghan chapter closed —although the development of the situation in the Central Asian country had practically disappeared from the headlines— Al Zawahiri’s presence in Kabul once again muddies the Biden Administration. One of the conditions for the military withdrawal was that the Taliban in power did not provide shelter to the jihadist group, but the fact that Al Zawahiri lived in the capital, sheltered by members of the influential Haqqani network and, therefore, with knowledge of part of the Taliban leadership, introduces a new threat to US security: Afghanistan as a new platform for launching attacks, as the Pentagon warned in September. For Al Qaeda, measured or not in its terrorist potential, the US continues to be the enemy to beat, according to the latest documents released by the organization.

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The likely successor as Al Qaeda’s top official, the Egyptian Saif al Adel, has taken refuge, according to some reports, in Iran, which would add a difficult piece to the puzzle: Washington’s tense relationship with Tehran, after the The White House has thrown in the towel on attempts to revive the nuclear pact. In short, the end of Al Zawahiri recalls, despite the success of the operation, how little the situation has changed in 20 years, between the eviction of the Taliban thanks to the war launched by George W. Bush and his return to power in August past, an infernal circle. A situation that forces the Biden Administration to make efforts that it would prefer to allocate to China and the war in Ukraine, in which, despite its determined material support, it does not want to go on forever. The world is safer today without Al Zawahiri, Biden stressed on Monday, but also more defenseless in the face of the spiral of consequences – energy, food security, defense – unleashed by the Russian invasion.

Biden made a kind of declaration of principles on the eve of the trip that took him to Saudi Arabia and Israel, in which he expressed his commitment to a safe region as a factor of global stability. But the new China-Russia-Iran axis, which has significantly strengthened its cooperation thanks to common interests —the main one, weakening the US—, is not going to make it easy for Biden at all. With or without the help of Al Qaeda.

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