After Kabul Strike, Aid Worker Recognizes Former Home

'It was a nice balcony,' he says after strike that killed Ayman al-Zawahri
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 4, 2022 5:00 AM CDT
Aid Worker Says al-Zawahri Was in His Former Home
In this image from television transmitted by the Arab news channel Al-Jazeera on Jan. 30, 2006, Ayman al-Zawahri gestures while addressing the camera.   (AP Photo/Al-Jazeera, File)

When news reports showed the Kabul villa where al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri was killed in a US drone strike Sunday, American aid worker Dan Smock was startled. He recognized the distinctive home he shared with several colleagues while working on a US government-funded project. "Reports said the CIA had intelligence that he liked to stand on the balcony, and I thought, ‘Of course he would, it was a nice balcony,'" Smock tells the Guardian. American officials reportedly built a scale model of the home and designed a strike that would destroy only the balcony.

"When the Kabul smog lifts you can see the mountains in the morning, and it’s next to an open field," Smock says. "It felt like you could hang out there without anyone noticing who it is, unless someone was really paying attention. And clearly someone was." The quiet neighborhood was long "mocked by Kabul residents as the stronghold of corrupt warlords and officials," per the BBC, and the Taliban took over some of the empty villas after taking control of the capital last year. Residents say there has been an increase in mysterious "non-Afghan residents," including Arabs, in recent months.

Smock, an Iraq veteran who was working in Kabul as a civilian, says it's "incredibly surreal" that the situation in Afghanistan changed so drastically that there was "public enemy number one, with a $25 million bounty on his head, literally living in the same space you lived in previously." He says he's saddened by the fact the Western mission in the country "failed so spectacularly that the people who took over in Kabul could do an Airbnb for the al-Qaeda CEO in a house that had been run by USAid contracting dollars for a decade plus." (The killing revealed a "worrisome alliance.")

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