AYMAN AL-ZAWAHIRI was al-Qaeda’s chief after the Americans killed Osama bin Laden in 2011. The world is well rid of him.
He was involved at the very beginning of al-Qaeda in Egypt during the 1980s. Like bin Laden, he was always a violent jihadist.
He was behind the US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 that killed 224 people
He was behind the attack on the USS Cole in 2000 that killed 17 American sailors.
And, of course, he was one of the key planners for the 9/11 attacks on America that killed almost 3,000 people and injured thousands more.
He never had the charisma — or the money — of Osama bin Laden, but he was a hardline terrorist ideologue.
A religious fanatic with little but indiscriminate murder in his heart.
He bored those around him with his long, rambling speeches and confused ideas.
But as one of the AQ “originals” he acted as an inspiration to fellow terrorists because he was still there at “al-Qaeda Central” somewhere between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
AQ Central declared war on America 24 years ago in the famous fatwa of 1998, before the embassy bombings in Africa.
So his killing with a Hellfire missile — justifiable in international law in this case — was a welcome tactical victory for the Americans.
It was a well-planned operation by the CIA — finding al-Zawahiri through good intelligence work, watching, checking, observing his routines — then striking with a Predator drone as he stood on his balcony in the early morning.
They possibly fired two of the new “ninja” R9X hellfire missiles, which have rotating blades that slice through whatever they hit — no explosive at all — to minimise threats to anyone else nearby.
Whichever Hellfire variant was used, it looks as if this operation was a complete success for the White House.
A quarter of a century after AQ declared its war, the last of the men who started it has met his end.
We can all be grateful for that.
But there should be no illusions. This neat tactical victory actually emphasises a much bigger strategic defeat for the democratic West.
Al-Zawahiri was living a comfortable life in a house in the wealthy Kabul suburbs, provided for him by a friend of Sirajuddin Haqqani, the boss of a very nasty mafia family in Afghanistan, who is now deputy head of state in a screwball Taliban government.
The Taliban agreed last year that when the Americans withdrew from Afghanistan, they would guarantee the country would never again become a home to terrorist groups like al-Qaeda.
That was part of the deal the US thought it was making in its secret meetings in Doha.
Yet the Taliban have opened their arms to al-Qaeda leaders even more than before the 9/11 attacks.
They embrace what is left of AQ in the region even as they fight a civil war against the more bloodthirsty jihadists of Islamic State who think that the Taliban and AQ are just, well, too moderate.
From the West’s point of view, how much worse could the situation in Afghanistan be?
In 2001 the US led an operation to prevent Afghanistan again becoming a base for jihadists who were attacking the West.
After 20 years of war, 70,000 deaths among Afghan forces, 7,500 deaths among Western troops and contractors, more than 57,000 among the Taliban and jihadist groups and something exceeding 200,000 deaths of Afghan civilians, where are we now?
The Afghan people, so many of whom were helped with jobs, education and rising living standards in those years, are now facing real starvation under an incompetent government that puts religious dogma ahead of getting any international help.
Jihadist terror groups are baked into Afghanistan’s future.
Al-Qaeda Central may have become ineffective over the years, but AQ and its clients operate powerfully in Syria, Yemen, Libya and on the Israel border in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula.
And new jihadist terror groups find an easy home in the new Afghanistan.
Afghanistan poses a greater terror threat to America and the rest of us than it was before 9/11.
Twenty years of war and suffering to end up less secure than we started. That’s what strategic failure really looks like.
The fact is, we all knew the Afghan policy was failing after 2015.
But it was failing slowly, it didn’t cost very much by then, and it could have been rescued with a bit more political will in Washington and two or three European capitals.
But President Trump’s decision to withdraw no matter what turned a gradual failure into a disaster.
Then President Biden’s handling of the withdrawal last August (and, yes, Britain’s as well) turned a disaster into a catastrophe.
Putin took due notice of the West’s sheer lack of bottle.
As some of us observed at the time, the road from Kabul to Kyiv was likely to be a short one.