KABUL (Reuters/MEMO) – Top leaders of Afghanistan’s Taliban were holding discussions on Wednesday about how to respond to a U.S. drone strike in Kabul that the United States said killed Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, three sources in the group said.
The United States said it killed Zawahiri with a missile fired from a drone while he stood on a balcony at his Kabul hideout on Sunday, U.S. officials said, the biggest blow to the terrorists since Osama bin Laden was shot dead more than a decade ago.
The Taliban have not confirmed Zawahiri’s death.
Officials of the group, long-time allies of Al-Qaeda, initially confirmed the Sunday drone strike but said the house that was hit was empty.
“There are meetings at a very high level on whether they should react to the drone strike, and in case they decide to, then what is the proper way,” a Taliban leader who holds an important position in Kabul said.
The official, who said there had been lengthy leadership discussions for two days, declined to be identified. He did not confirm that Zawahiri was in the house that the missile struck.
How the Taliban react could have significant repercussions as the group seeks international legitimacy, and access to billions of dollars in frozen funds, following their defeat of a U.S.-backed government a year ago.
Zawahiri, an Egyptian doctor, was closely involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States and was one of the world’s most wanted men.
His death in Kabul raises questions about whether he received sanctuary from the Taliban, who had assured the United States as part of a 2020 agreement on the withdrawal of U.S.-led forces that they would not harbor other militant groups.
The United States said on Tuesday it has “no DNA confirmation” of the death of al-Zawahiri.
“We do not have DNA confirmation, and we don’t need it,” White House spokesperson John Kirby told reporters. He explained that the U.S. government had “visual confirmation” as well as confirmation “through other sources.” Kirby added that there was a “small Al-Qaeda presence remaining in Afghanistan.”