Sept. 11, 2001 – Attack on twin towers of the World Trade Center. Al-Zawahiri is Osama bin Laden’s top deputy and widely credited with masterminding the attack
May 2, 2011 – Successful US operation to take out bin Laden at compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan
2011 – Al-Zawahiri succeeds bin Laden following the successful U.S. operation to take out world’s top terror leader. US intelligence over several months gains ‘increased confidence’ terror leader’s family has relocated to a safe house
Early April – Top security staffers are informed of ‘developing intelligence’. Shortly thereafter, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan briefs President Biden
US officials develop ‘pattern of life’ for Al-Zawahiri. Al-Zawahiri arrives at the safe house location; US not aware of him ever leaving after he arrived
Al-Zawahiri continues to crank out videos attacking the US and allies.
The US then investigates ‘construction and nature of the safe house’ and building integrity so the strike could kill the terror leader without endangering civilians.
Officials undertake operation to determine the identity of all the people in the safe house. Officials ‘systematically eliminated all reasonable options’ other than a strike.
Officials hold a series of ‘close-hold’ briefing to vet intelligence. ‘Key’ agencies are brought into the process to make sure information is ‘rock solid’ and develop alternatives and minimize risks to civilians
During the last few weeks of this period, Biden convenes several meetings with advisors and cabinet members to scrutinize intelligence
May and June – Biden receives updates
July 1 – Biden is briefed on a proposed operation in the White House Situation Room by key members of his cabinet. Attending are CIA Director William Burns, counterterrorism experts, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, and National Counterterrorism Center Director Christine Abizaid, national security adviser Jake Sullivan, Principal Deputy National Security Adviser Finer
Biden examines a model that was constructed of the safe house inside the Situation Room. Biden requests further information on building plans and likely effects of a strike. Directs intel community to prepare impact analyses. Asks intel to consider risks to Mark Randall Frerichs, an American who disappeared in Afghanistan in 2020, impact on future access to Afghan air space, and on efforts to evacuate Afghan partners
June and July – Principals and deputies convene in Situation Room multiple times to ‘test the intelligence picture’. ‘Tight circle’ of agency lawyers confirms legal basis. They conclude al-Zawahiri is a lawful target.
Biden asks all present for their view. ‘All strongly recommended approval of this target’
July 25 – Biden convenes advisors and key cabinet for final meeting on updated intel. Asks again about other options, the layout of rooms, and impacts. At the end of the meeting, Biden ‘authorized a precise tailored airstrikes on the condition that have strike minimize, to the greatest extent possible the risk of civilian casualties.’
July 30, 9:48 pm EDT – US undertakes ‘precision counterterrorism operation in Kabul’ to take out al-Zawahiri