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Tabadlab Policy Roundtable 44 – Over the Horizon: Implications of the Strike in Kabul

The Killing of Ayman al-Zawahiri

The US conducted its known drone strike in Kabul since the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan in August 2021. The strike that killed Ayman al-Zawahiri, the most prominent remaining Al Qaeda leader, brought into focus the “over-the-horizon” counterterrorism strategy employed by the US and ignited a renewed discussion about its permanence and effectiveness. The Biden administration framed the strike as a testament to the US’ enduring military capabilities and a major milestone in the protracted ‘War on Terror’. Washington argued that the presence of al-Zawahiri on Afghan soil indicated the Taliban have violated the Doha agreement, under which the Taliban were to prevent the re-emergence of extremist groups in the country. On the other hand, the Taliban responded by condemning the strike, arguing it was in violation of international principles. As we approach the one-year anniversary of the Taliban retaking control over Afghanistan, the Kabul strike raises important questions about the future of US presence in Afghanistan, the Taliban, and the future of non-state militant outfits such as Al Qaeda.



Spencer Ackerman
Associate Professor, American University
Lecturer, American University Afghanistan
Associate Research Fellow, International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research
Adnan Rafiq
Zeeshan Salahuddin

Spencer Ackerman is a contributing editor at the Daily Beast. From 2017 to 2021, he was senior national security correspondent for The Daily Beast. He is the author of forthcoming REIGN OF TERROR: How The 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump. The former U.S. national security editor for the Guardian, Ackerman was part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team reporting on Edward Snowden’s surveillance revelations.


Dr Tricia Bacon, is an Associate Professor at American University’s School of Public Affairs. She directs the Policy Anti-Terrorism Hub at American University. Previously Dr. Bacon worked on counterterrorism for over ten years at the Department of State, including in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, the Bureau of Counterterrorism, and the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.


Obaidullah Baheer is a lecturer of Transitional Justice at the American University in Kabul. He holds a postgraduate degree in International Relations from the University of New South Wales where he majored in Peace and Negotiation.



Abdul Basit is an Associate Research Fellow at the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR) of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Basit specialises in issues of politics, violence, religious extremism, terrorism and security in South Asia.



Dr Adnan Rafiq is USIP’s Country Director for Pakistan. He is a senior development practitioner with a focus on public policy design, analysis, and implementation. Dr. Rafiq has multiple years of experience leading research and development initiatives for a range of organizations, including the U.N. Development Programme, DAI, U.N. Women, and the British Council.


Zeeshan Salahuddin is Director for the Centre for Regional and Global Connectivity (CRGC) at Tabadlab. Zeeshan’s research focuses on security studies, particularly religious and political extremism in Pakistan, and its priorities in an increasingly multipolar world. He frequently writes for The News, The Friday Times, Dawn, The Diplomat, Foreign Policy, and others, and occasionally provides analysis on BBC and CNN.