The United States killed Al-Qaeda's chief in an airstrike on his house in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Though the agreement between the US and the Taliban is not public, one thing that is clear is that the US was supposed to completely withdraw its military presence and stop its operations in Afghanistan as part of the deal. Doesn't that mean the US wasn't allowed to do any such operation? Isn't this a violation of the deal signed between the two powers?

  • 2
    Might makes right...
    – Valorum
    Commented Aug 3, 2022 at 17:47
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    Allowed by whom?
    – erickson
    Commented Aug 3, 2022 at 20:30
  • The agreement seems public enough to me unless it had secret clauses/annexes. The more annoying part is that there are several versions on the web, and I'm not sure which one was the final one. Commented Aug 3, 2022 at 21:00
  • Ah, yeah, confusingly the US released agreements with both the Taliban and the former Islamic Republic of Afghanistan at the same time. The one with the Taliban has "between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban" in the title. So they declare the Taliban on par with ISIS or something like that, i.e. not a real state, which begs the question what kind of rights/powers/authority does the US recognize of such an entity. Commented Aug 3, 2022 at 21:17
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    I find it much more worrying that an arm of the executive branch has missiles, and can use them to launch attacks overseas without the approval of the legislature. But unfortunately much of the balances of powers has been eroded by the transfer of power from the legislative branch to the executive branch.
    – Kovy Jacob
    Commented Aug 12, 2022 at 0:14

4 Answers 4


(This answer is analyzing the import of the agreement referred to in the question, not international law, which is another aspect)

Pretty much. About the only hard commitment the Taliban got nailed to in the (public) 2020 Doha Accords was not to allow Afghanistan to be used as a terrorist base.

  1. The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban will prevent any group or individual in Afghanistan from threatening the security of the United States and its allies, and will prevent them from recruiting, training, and fundraising and will not host them in accordance with the commitments in this agreement.

(there's more verbiage about terrorist support in the agreement, this is only the most directly relevant)

This is exactly what the US claims:

A Taliban spokesman described the US operation as a clear violation of international principles - but did not mention Zawahiri. US officials maintained that the operation had had a legal basis.

Under a peace deal struck in 2020, the Taliban agreed not to allow al-Qaeda or any other extremist group to operate in areas under their control.

However, the Taliban and al-Qaeda are long-time allies and US officials said the Taliban were aware of Zawahiri's presence in Kabul, and he lived freely and in the open in the Afghan capital.

In background briefings, US intelligence officers accused Taliban affiliates of going to the safe house after the strike to try to cover up evidence of Zawahiri's presence there.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that by hosting and sheltering Zawahiri in Kabul, the Taliban had "grossly violated" the peace agreement.

al-Zawahiri being Al-Qaeda's leader hosting him seems to qualify very well for a material violation of Doha.

Was he indeed "hosted"? Or did he live incognito and unknown to the Taliban in Kabul?

It is a neighbourhood which became notorious over the past two decades for its garish multi-storey villas, mocked by Kabul residents as the stronghold of corrupt warlords and officials, a gaudy symbol of the spoils of an ugly war.

Kabulis called it Choorpur, the town of thieves. The Taliban took over some of the empty villas, close to some high-walled Western embassies, which also slammed shut when the Taliban took charge.

p.s. and in the final analysis, Doha aside, esp. with Zawahiri, the US, like Gerritt says, would have done it anyway if it felt it could get away with it. Though it usually doesn't drone friendly countries but rather cajoles them into arresting the target (Pakistan is not really a "friend" in the traditional sense).

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    1) Do the Doha accords define what is meant by "host"? The English word is somewhat ambiguous, in a way which is important here. 2) Has the US government provided proof, of a legal standard, that Zawahiri was being hosted? 3) Do the Doha accords permit the USA to conduct airstrikes in response to violations by the Taliban? 4) Are the Doha accords even relevant, since they were signed by the Taliban, not the de facto government of Afghanistan? Commented Aug 2, 2022 at 18:30
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    1. read the accords, they're not long. they do not, so the common usage of the term would apply. which is not that ambiguous so your claim is iffy 2. not that I know of 3. the Doha Accords provide for a withdrawal/ceasefire, which the Taliban have violated here. the US is, in theory, allowed to claim Taliban are in breach so that the US is not held up to their end. 4. the Taliban are the government of Afghanistan right now. Your point? Commented Aug 2, 2022 at 18:34
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    1) The agreement is ambiguous, were the Taliban committing to actively (and successfully) hunt down undesirable people in Afghanistan? 2) So why would they be "allowed" to act without such proof? 3) Yes, I can see how the USA might feel that, without a ceasefire, they are permitted to take any military action. 4) The Taliban are governing Afghanistan, but are not the Afghan government per se. An analogy, a political party gets a loan, they are later voted into power, could their creditor pursue the government for compensation if the party defaulted on the loan? Commented Aug 2, 2022 at 18:50
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    2) Who would allow/disallow them? We don't have a World Government. Also it's America so...
    – Sam Dean
    Commented Aug 3, 2022 at 10:12
  • @CharlieEvans Do tell us what exactly is ambiguous in that article 3 I cited. Keeping in mind that Z. was living in Kabul's diplomats district. Does that require "hunt down undesirable people"? Commented Aug 3, 2022 at 15:37

Doesn't that mean the US wasn't allowed to do any such operation?

Allowed by whom? There is no world police.

If the United States government decides to assassinate someone, they do not need anybody's permission. They usually won't commit drone strikes on friendly countries without coordination, or unfriendly countries that might strike back. Not because of whether it's allowed or not, but because they would have to face with the consequences. That's why they assassinate people with drone strikes in Yemen, Afghanistan, or Somalia, but not in Russia or the United Kingdom. They target weak enemies this way, but not friends or strong enemies, because there would be a high price to pay.

  • So you mean that Doha Agreement in practicality stands useless once the last soldier or last citizen left Afghan soil? Commented Aug 3, 2022 at 11:43
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    @AnshulSahni Agreements stand useless if parties decide to ignore the agreement.
    – gerrit
    Commented Aug 3, 2022 at 12:45
  • The United States already has a lot of enmity with different groups present on Afghan Soil, breaking the agreement with the largest militant group of the region that happens to also practically control the whole country, isn't that a foolish step, to compromise the security of its own citizens both inside & outside the US? Commented Aug 3, 2022 at 14:25
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    "They [US government] won't commit drone strikes on friendly countries without coordination" - they would and they did. See Qasem Soleimani; note that Irak has been (at least nominally) a US ally at the time. Commented Aug 4, 2022 at 11:57
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    @RadovanGarabík I see. I suspect that they would have informed the Iraqi government in advance if they trusted them, and if they didn't trust them, then maybe they're not so friendly after all. Or they did send a cable "btw, we're about to kill your guest in a moment, please don't intervene". Yes, I admit this is a circular "no true Scotsman" reasoning…
    – gerrit
    Commented Aug 11, 2022 at 7:26

To conduct airstrikes on another country's territory you clearly need the other country's approval. The US does not recognize the Taliban as the government, so they presumably need the approval of the government they do recognize. But that government barely exists anymore, so it's hard to get their approval (and I didn't see anything in news reports saying the US actually did get their approval).

So no, the US is not "allowed" to execute an airstrike on Afghan soil. "Allowed" in inverted commas because there is no reasonable scenario where the US avoids attacking Zawahiri because it is against the law.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – CDJB
    Commented Aug 5, 2022 at 8:25
  • One might argue that the government barely existing makes getting acquiescence easier for these kinds of actions. Don't take that to be arguing against the proposition that any kind of legal justification would be questionable. Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 15:46

Honestly, with all technical aspects, stipulations, laws, and rights aside, just judging from the past behavior of the United States (speaking as a citizen though in complete disapproval of his own Government's actions) they'll do whatever they want and find some way to excuse, cover-up, or place blame later.

They have a long standing track record for this very behavior. To add some factual information to back up this claim - which otherwise is seemingly vague and/or mostly opinionated, here is a list of 13 other agreements, treaties, and similar pacts the United States has broken or gone back on... just on the first page:

U.S. DIS-agreements

While I understand and realize many countries can act irrationally, I've been on this earth long enough to see a pattern with this country in particular. I can see how it may seem nothing more than an opinion... if it wasn't for so many past examples and facts to validate it as more than just opinion.

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    The answer seems to be very vague and completely opinionated, countries do behave in irrational manner all the time but that's not the intention of the question, my intention was that how US can justify this action logically keeping the Doha agreement in perspective. Will consider upvoting if author makes necessary changes Commented Aug 3, 2022 at 1:47
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    That list is not what this answer says it is. It is primarily a list of things that the U.S. never agreed to in the first place (some of which it respects despite not having formally agreed to, others of which it ignores, others of which [e.g. Versailles] are no longer in effect anyway.) I also love how they list the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and how 166 countries have ratified it and the U.S. is among only 8 that haven't... and the 8 in question just so happen to be a majority of the countries that have ever possessed nuclear weapons...
    – reirab
    Commented Aug 3, 2022 at 5:55
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    This applies to most countries that consider themselves great powers, though. Everyone is out for themselves.
    – Allure
    Commented Aug 3, 2022 at 5:58

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