Could the U.S. face retaliation for the drone strike that killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri?

Virginia Tech expert calls the U.S. - Afghanistan relationship a “mixed bag”

10 News spoke with a Virginia Tech expert on what this could mean going forward

LYNCHBURG, Va.It was a highly classified U.S. drone strike that killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri who helped plot the September 11, 2001 attacks with Osama bin Laden and other terrorist operations around the world.

“Very few people likely had knowledge of the operation beforehand, so yes, I was surprised probably like millions of other Americans,” said Ariel Ahram, a professor with Virginia Tech’s School of Public and International Affairs.

Ahram said when the U.S. military withdrew from Afghanistan last year, one of the conditions was that the Taliban couldn’t allow al-Qaeda to use Afghanistan as a safe haven.

“Cleary, al-Zawahiri residing in Kabul is a violation of those terms. It indicates that at least some elements of the Taliban remain committed to carrying out a global military campaign,” said Ahram.

Ahram called the relationship between the U.S. and Afghanistan a “mixed bag.”

“There are fewer U.S. troops in the region, making them less exposed, although not immune to attacks. So, I don’t think there’s a grand strategic change that’s underfoot because of this attack, but the U.S. will have to remain vigilant and alert,” Ahram said.

Ahram said that al-Qaeda remains committed to attacking the U.S. and its allies, but their ability is damaged.

So, should Americans fear retaliation?

“I don’t think that there’s any more reason to fear retaliation now than there was yesterday,” Ahram said.

Virginia lawmakers also weighed in about the U.S. operation.

Republican Congressman Ben Cline tweeted, “al-Zawahiri helped plan the 9/11 attacks and the bombing of the USS Cole. His death should send a strong message that if you harm Americans, we will find you and finish you. Congratulations to all those who carried out the successful mission.”

Democratic State Senator Tim Kaine echoed that message on Tuesday.

“If you take action against the United States, you can live in safehouses for 20 years and live like a shadow and a fugitive, yourself and your family; but even if you do that, we’re going to find you,” said Senator Kaine.

About the Author:

Tim Harfmann joined the 10 News team in September 2020 and works at the station's Lynchburg bureau.