Skip to content
The Morning Dispatch: U.S. Kills al-Qaeda Leader
Go to my account

The Morning Dispatch: U.S. Kills al-Qaeda Leader

Plus: What’s in the CHIPS package.

Happy Tuesday! A Canadian candy company is offering $78,000 a year for a work-from-home job as Chief Candy Officer, with duties including being the head taste tester. Sweet gig!

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • President Joe Biden announced Monday that the United States killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who helped plan the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. U.S. officials said Zawahiri died in a CIA drone strike on his Kabul safe house Saturday night and that intelligence officials believe no one else died in the strike. “Justice has been delivered, and this terrorist leader is no more,” Biden said.

  • A Ukrainian grain shipment—the first since Russia’s invasion began—left the port city of Odessa yesterday bound for Tripoli, Lebanon, under a deal brokered by the United Nations and Turkey to ease a global food shortage. The agreement should allow the 18 million metric tons of grain that have been trapped in Ukraine since the invasion to be shipped to buyers in the Middle East and Africa. 

  • National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on Monday announced another $550 million aid package to Ukraine, which will include additional ammunition for HIMARS rocket launchers and artillery systems the U.S. previously supplied. Meanwhile, Russian troops are repositioning to focus on the southern Donbas region, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday declared a mandatory evacuation of the eastern Donetsk region, where much of the war’s fighting has occurred and where a prison missile strike killed 53 Ukrainian POWs last week. 

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to arrive in Taiwan this morning, local media reported, after Kirby warned Monday that China’s response to the visit could include firing missiles into the Taiwan Strait and breaching the island democracy’s air defense zone.

  • The first Jan. 6 defendant to be convicted at trial, Guy Reffitt, was sentenced to seven years in prison yesterday—short of the 15 years prosecutors sought, but the longest sentence to date for Jan. 6 offenses. A recruiter for the right-wing Three Percenters group, Reffitt was convicted of five felonies including carrying a firearm to a riot and threatening his teenage son, who later turned him in to the FBI.

  • A Michigan appellate court has ruled that a pre-Roe state law banning abortion except to save a mother’s life could go back into effect in three weeks after being blocked in May. However, state Attorney General Dana Nessel says she won’t enforce the ban, and both Planned Parenthood of Michigan and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer have filed separate suits to have the ban ruled unconstitutional under Michigan’s constitution. 

  • Average apartment rents in the U.S. grew 9.4 percent year-over-year in quarter two of 2022, according to data firm CoStar Group. That’s a cooling from the previous two quarters’ 11 percent growth at a time of year when rents typically rise the most.

U.S. Kills Al-Qaeda’s Top Leader

An undated photo of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Zawahiri was killed in a U.S. drone strike over the weekend.

The days and weeks following President Joe Biden’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan were filled with predictions about what would follow. Afghanistan under the Taliban would become an even more attractive home to even more terrorists, his critics warned, with a jihadist government cracking down on the general population and many Islamic radicals free to operate. But Biden and his backers insisted that U.S. counterterrorism operations could maintain an over-the-horizon capability that would allow them to kill al-Qaeda leaders operating in Afghanistan.

They were both right.

The United States government killed al-Qaeda co-founder and leader Ayman al-Zawahiri over the weekend in a drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital. Biden made the announcement of the successful strike from the White House on Monday evening. The president detailed Zawahiri’s long history as a jihadist leader, emphasizing his involvement in the planning of operations targeting Americans including the attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, the USS Cole bombing in 2000, and the attacks on September 11, 2001.

Zawahiri, an Egyptian, was long considered a driving ideological force behind al-Qaeda, having brought many of his Egyptian Islamic Jihad followers to the group in the years before the 9/11 attacks. He was a consistent proponent and practitioner of political violence and reportedly convinced Osama bin Laden to set his sights on attacking the United States homeland.

“He carved a trail of murder and violence against American citizens, American service members, American diplomats, and American interests,” Biden said. “And since the United States delivered justice to [Osama] bin Laden 11 years ago, Zawahiri has been a leader of al-Qaeda—the leader.” 

The president noted that Zawahiri remained an active leader of the global jihad, involved in planning and propagandizing until his death at age 71. “From hiding, he coordinated al-Qaeda’s branches and all around the world—including setting priorities, for providing operational guidance that called for and inspired attacks against U.S. targets. He made videos, including in recent weeks, calling for his followers to attack the United States and our allies. Now justice has been delivered, and this terrorist leader is no more.”

The operation took place in the early morning hours Sunday in Afghanistan (just before 10 p.m. ET here in the U.S.). The attack targeted a home in Kabul’s Sherpur district, an upscale part of the city once populated primarily by Western diplomats. After the U.S. troop withdrawal and the exodus of many Western officials, Taliban leaders occupied homes in the neighborhood and set up a secure section from which to operate. U.S. officials say it is inconceivable that Zawahiri was living in a home in the area without the knowledge and approval of the Taliban. The home in which Zawahiri was killed is reportedly linked to Sirajuddin Haqqani, and according to the New York Times, “members of the Haqqani network, a terrorist group that is part of the Taliban government, tried to conceal that Mr. Zawahri had been at the house” after the attack.

Biden touted the successful strike as proof that his over-the-horizon approach to killing terrorist leaders can be effective. After the withdrawal from Afghanistan, Biden said, “I made a promise to the American people that we’d continue to conduct effective counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan and beyond. We’ve done just that.”

He’s right, but the situation in Afghanistan is more complicated than that simple declaration suggests.

Nearly a year ago, Biden defended his withdrawal of U.S. troops by declaring that they were no longer necessary. “What interest do we have in Afghanistan at this point, with al-Qaeda gone?” he asked. “We went to Afghanistan for the express purpose of getting rid of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan as well as—as well as—getting Osama bin Laden. And we did.”

Biden’s claim wasn’t true when he made it. Al-Qaeda had a presence in 15 of 34 provinces in Afghanistan. Its leadership overlapped with Taliban leadership. Zawahiri had sworn an oath of allegiance to Taliban leader Hibatullah Akhundzada. As Thomas Joscelyn, author of Vital Interests here at The Dispatch (on leave), put it in a September 2021 analysis for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies: “The relationship between the Taliban and al-Qaeda remains as close as it was on September 11, 2001. The Taliban provided safe havens for al-Qaeda as it planned and prepared for the 9/11 attacks, and al-Qaeda remains in Afghanistan today with the Taliban’s full support.”

The U.S. Treasury Department had reported eight months earlier, in January 2021, that al-Qaeda was “gaining strength in Afghanistan while continuing to operate with the Taliban under the Taliban’s protection.” If al-Qaeda was gaining before the withdrawal, those gains accelerated afterwards.

A United Nations study from June 2022 described a permissive operating environment for al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and confirmed longstanding ties at the leadership level. “Member States note that al-Zawahiri’s apparent increased comfort and ability to communicate has coincided with the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan and the consolidation of power of key [al-Qaeda] allies within their de facto administration,” the report concluded.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said “the Taliban grossly violated the Doha Agreement and repeated assurances to the world that they would not allow Afghan territory to be used by terrorists to threaten the security of other countries.” Taliban leaders, in turn, accused the U.S. of violating the agreement by conducting strikes on Afghan soil.

U.S. officials believe that Saif al-Adel, a veteran al Qaeda operative who spent years living in Iran, will become the group’s new leader.

What’s in Congress’s Big Bag of CHIPs?

Last Thursday, Congress approved the CHIPS bill, intended to help the United States compete on semiconductor production. We’ve waited this long to cover it in-depth because we were busy writing about other news, yes, but also because we couldn’t pick a pun. These CHIPS don’t dip? Congress CHIPS in? The CHIPS are down? CHIPping away at the semiconductor shortage?

We finally decided to include them all—in honor of a package that rings in at a hefty $280 billion. The CHIPS and Science Act is aimed at relieving a critical economic bottleneck and cutting off China’s efforts to dominate the market. 

Semiconductors are crucial to phones, cars, medical equipment, and weapons—the United States military alone needs an estimated 1.9 billion a year. Shortages thanks to supply chain hiccups have hobbled car and electronics sales during the pandemic. And while the U.S. still leads the world in chip design, its global share of semiconductor production has dropped from 37 percent in 1990 to about 12 percent today. China, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan host about three-quarters of the world’s chip-making capacity, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association. Much of that shift is thanks to cost—it’s roughly 30 percent pricier to build and maintain an advanced chip factory in the U.S. than in Taiwan, South Korea, or Singapore, and as much as 50 percent pricier than in China, SIA reports.

Taiwan in particular corners the market on manufacturing the most advanced semiconductors. That’s a risk not only because China is increasingly threatening the island’s autonomy, but also because one natural disaster like a nasty earthquake could cripple the world’s production. 

And countries in Asia and Europe are still adding incentives to attract chip manufacturing. “If the U.S. doesn’t play the game that all the other regions in the world are playing, then you’re potentially left behind,” Sujai Shivakumar—director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Renewing American Innovation Project—told The Dispatch. “It’s not only an economic commitment but also a show of political will—of international leadership—that we are undertaking this investment.”

So to diversify global chips production—and attract the jobs and tax revenue that come with major manufacturing facilities—lawmakers put together a bill that spends big both on subsidizing manufacturing facilities and on research and infrastructure to support the industry. The bill includes $52.7 billion in grants to build chip manufacturing facilities, research, and production; a 25 percent tax credit for manufacturing investments; $11 billion to develop manufacturing and development infrastructure in 20 “regional technology hubs;” and a breezy $200 billion for chip-related scientific research.

“It’s a comprehensive set of policies designed to restore industrial competitiveness, not just corporate giveaways,” Stephen Ezell, a vice president at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, told The Dispatch. “This isn’t an incidental, slightly on-the-margin set of issues. This is about establishing certainty and clarity for the industry, that policymakers take the issue of this industry—manufacturing and skill—in the United States quite seriously.”

And manufacturers made it clear the bill would have a measurable impact on their investments in the U.S. “If we can’t partner with the U.S. government in terms of appropriate incentives, we will have to look elsewhere for support,” Peter Cleveland—a vice president at TSMC, Taiwan’s world-leading semiconductor manufacturer—said last week before the bill passed. Intel threatened to delay a promised $20 billion project in Columbus, Ohio, when the bill stalled in June.

Opponents of the bill complain companies will happily take the money and build in China anyway. “That’s certainly a reasonable concern,” Ezell said, but noted that the legislation requires companies to use the money only for U.S. projects and allows the commerce secretary to check proposed projects for support of U.S. national interest. The package also prohibits beneficiary companies from pursuing any “material expansion” of advanced chip production in China, which our colleague Klon argues will nudge investment away from China over time—an assessment China seems to share, since it reportedly lobbied against the bill.

Other criticisms have focused on the risk that companies or government-driven research initiatives will waste cash on dud projects. Supporters say that possibility is worth it, too. “Industrial policy is a little bit like basketball sometimes,” Charles Wessner, professor of global innovation policy at Georgetown University, told The Dispatch. “The only way you can win is if you shoot, but there’s no guarantee that you’ll win every time.” That shouldn’t deter the U.S., he argued, if only because it hasn’t deterred China. “The Chinese don’t quit when it doesn’t work… They’re deadly serious.”

Worth Your Time

  • Attempts to understand Trump’s desperate efforts to cling to power fall along two “admittedly reductive” binaries, Katherine Miller writes for the New York Times: “1. Donald Trump is the logical extension of the Republican Party” or “2. Donald Trump is an anomaly” and “a. Systems matter most for the peaceful transfer of power” or “b. Individual choices matter most for the peaceful transfer of power.” Through the Jan. 6 committee hearings, Rep. Liz Cheney has been making the latter two arguments, Miller argues. “If you buy into the idea that the difference between one person and the next really matters in politics and especially in governance, this requires endless separating between vain and noble motives and, more to the point, worthless and meaningful actions,” Miller writes, arguing this explains Cheney’s frustration with her Republican peers. “More than anything, her actions seem to reflect the ultimate individualist view of the past six years: If you don’t do it yourself, nobody is coming to help you.”

  • In Insider, Grace Panetta and Brent Griffiths cover a conservative push to call a constitutional convention and make changes including changing federal environmental standards and dropping national education requirements. Interviews with a dozen people involved in the constitutional convention movement, along with documents and audio recordings reviewed by Insider, reveal a sprawling, well-funded — at least partly by cryptocurrency — and impassioned campaign taking root across multiple states,” they write. “Rob Natelson, a constitutional scholar and senior fellow at the Independence Institute who closely studies Article V of the Constitution, predicted to Insider there’s a 50 percent chance that the United States will witness a constitutional convention in the next five years. … But not everyone in the conservative constitutional convention movement believes such a gathering is so imminent. It will likely take years more work to reach their goal, if they ever do. At minimum, Republicans will need to flip several Democratic-controlled state legislatures and convince remaining GOP holdouts of the necessity for a convention.”

Presented Without Comment

 Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • On today’s Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah take a break from their usual legal beat to talk fiction writing. Steven Pressfield, author of A Man at Arms, joined the pod to discuss how to write historical fiction in the ancient world and gives his best tips to aspiring writers.

  • On the site today, Audrey writes about today’s jungle primary in Washington state’s 3rd District, where hard-right darling Joe Kent is challenging moderate GOP incumbent Jaime Herrera Beutler. John Gustavsson breaks down the strike-busting labor policy package proposed by Liz Truss, the favorite to become the U.K.’s next prime minister, and Dalibor Rohac discusses right-wing populists’ love affair with Hungary’s Viktor Orban, who will speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas next week.

  • We are living in “a time when we step through a door between ages,” writes Chris Stirewalt in his column about what we can learn about the current moment from a book about the Middle Ages. Chris argues that the history of medieval Christianity as told by William Manchester in his 1992 book A World Lit Only by Fire provides a blueprint for living in tumultuous times. Being alive now “carries extra obligation for me as a Christian,” Chris argues, “but also for all the people who enjoy and cherish the rights and duties carved out of the chaos of seven centuries of real tragedy.”

  • Want to get to know The Dispatch staff? We’re launching The Dispatch Monthly Mailbag: Each month, Dispatch members can ask the staff questions about their reporting and get answers in their inboxes. Harvest is kicking things off—ask your questions here.

Let Us Know

What do you think of the CHIPS Act—and can you think of a pun we missed?

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.

Steve Hayes is the editor and CEO of The Dispatch.