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Erin Burnett Outfront

U.S. Kills Al Qaeda Leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri In Drone Strike; White House Warns China Against Threats Over Pelosi's Taiwan Trip; U.S. Kills Al Qaeda Leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri In Strike, Terrorist Worked Closely With Bin Laden On U.S. Attacks; Trump Backs Election Deniers In Arizona GOP Primaries. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired August 01, 2022 - 19:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

And OUTFRONT tonight, we have breaking news. President Biden is about to speak at this hour. He will hold a rare primetime address to announce the United States has taken out one of the world's most wanted terrorists, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the leader of al Qaeda, a man who oversaw the September 11th attacks alongside the group's founder, Osama bin Laden.

Al-Zawahiri I've been on the FBI's most wanted list for almost over 25 years. Now, according to a spokesperson for the Taliban which, of course, controls Afghanistan, he was killed while at a residential house in the Sherpa area of Kabul, not in tribal regions, in the hinterlands, he was in the capital of Afghanistan.

Now he founded the terror movement of al Qaeda while in Egyptian jail, spent time in the United States. In 2021 released video to celebrate Americas withdrawal from Afghanistan. People have been saying he was dead, here is in this video he's hurt saying quote, let us not forget the 19 mujahidin, the warriors of Islam, stabbed America and its heart, an injury the likes of which America hadn't ever tasted before.

Today, it's making its exit from Afghanistan, broken, defeated after 20 years of war. It's proof, al-Zawahiri didn't stop after 9/11, in the years followed he continued to lead al Qaeda, he kept praise on terrorists who target Americans. He praised a second lieutenant of a Saudi Royal Air Force, who shot and killed three U.S. Navy sailors at naval air station in Pensacola in 2019.

According to Al-Zawahiri's FBI wanted poster, the reward for the most wanted terrorist was up to $25 million. But there are so many things we do not yet know tonight. So many details about how they found out where he was, how they targeted him, how they knew they got him. But we do know, 25 years on the list $25 million, they say the reward.

Jeremy Diamond's OUTFRONT live in the White House to begin our breaking news coverage. And, Jeremy, obviously, the president is going to be speaking in just

a few moments here live to the country. Tell me about the significance of this moment, and what we're about to hear, I know they've obviously been working on this with painstaking detail?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, this is an extremely significant moment for President Biden during his time as president. As soon as we learned that President Biden was going to address a significant counterterrorism operation in Afghanistan, immediately it was clear that this must has been a high value target. That's typically only when we do hear from the president of the United States, addressing one of its counterterrorism operations.

The last time we heard from President Biden in a similar moment was back in February when the leader of ISIS at the time, al Quraishi, was killed in a U.S. raid in Syria. Now U.S. officials have yet to officially confirm from the White House, the target was indeed al- Zawahiri, we've source that CNN confirming to us that al-Zawahiri was killed in a drone strike over the weekend. The senior administration official saying that the U.S. conducted a successful counterterrorism over the weekend in Afghanistan.

And as you mentioned, Erin, the Taliban they say this air strike, drone strike happened inside of Kabul, in downtown Kabul. Of course that raises a whole host of questions. The Taliban agreed as part of that agreement with the Trump administration about the U.S. forces withdrawing from Afghans that to ensure that Afghanistan did not become a safe haven for terrorist operations against the United States. So, when the major questions here would be, did Al-Zawahiri have member support from the Taliban government as he was remaining in Kabul.

Now, at the same time, this operation comes nearly a year withdrawal from Afghanistan and at the time, you'll recall, Erin, President Biden made very clear that even though U.S. troops were withdrawing from Afghanistan that the U.S. was going to retain when he called over the horizon capabilities to strike it any terrorist organization, and individual terrace that might try to harm the United States. That's exactly what happened over the weekend as the U.S. was able to conduct a successful drone strike to take out al-Zawahiri, at the same time we're hearing there was no civilian casualties in this operation, something that we know President Biden has been mindful of, particularly when you think of last summer when there was a deadly U.S. strike that resulted in several civilian casualties in Afghanistan, around the time of the U.S. withdrawal.

But we are expecting to hear from President Biden this hour in just a few moments, on this operation, how was conducted and perhaps he'll explain some of the intelligence that led to this drone strike that success like killed al-Zawahiri, not only al Qaeda's leader but also formally Osama bin Laden's number two official four years, who helped shape al Qaeda more than anyone besides bin Laden.


BURNETT: Jeremy, thank you so much. As we await the president, we like to see what details he'll get out. Obviously, a drone attack comes with significant intelligence on the ground. What al-Zawahiri was doing in Kabul, whether safe harbor, or visiting, a role the Taliban played with announcing it, there's so many things we simply don't know.

I want to bring in now, Clarissa Ward, our chief international correspondent who's reported extensively from in Afghanistan; Seth Jones, former adviser to the commanding general of the U.S. special operations in Afghanistan; John Avlon, our senior political analyst; and Leon Panetta, he was CIA director when Osama bin Laden was caught and when al-Zawahiri became the leader of al Qaeda. He's soon became defense secretary and I traveled to Afghanistan with him then.

Director, Secretary Panetta, let me begin with you 25 years on the list, 25 million dollar reward, a year after chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. How significant is this moment?

LEON PANETTA, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE UNDER OBAMA: I think this is a very significant moment. In many ways, it book ends with the operation to go after bin Laden. And really, I think, undermines al Qaeda's leadership for a long time to come. We were successful in going after bin Laden, his number two took his place.

But the bottom line is that this attack going after al-Zawahiri has made very clear that al Qaeda does not have a leadership at this point in time to be able to be a threat to the United States or others.

BURNETT: Clarissa, what about the significance of the location as I said we don't know the context yet, the intelligence perhaps the president will share a lot more in a few minutes when he began speaking. But it certainly stands out, not that the border tribal regions, in the capital, even Kabul is where this strike took out of Zawahiri.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's pretty staggering, Erin. I mean, this is an area Sherpur, which is really just minutes away from a guest house where we will spending a lot of time. It's a place where many Taliban leaders spend a lot of time, had houses.

The very real burning question in the moment I think becomes whose house was this, who did it belong to, what was he doing there, how long have he been there, who knew that he was there, and how was this allowed to happen? Because while we're already seeing the Taliban leadership come out and condemn the drone strike and say that it's in direct contravention of the Doha agreement, what is in direct contravention of the dialogue remained was the very idea that once again al Qaeda could enjoy any kind of safe haven in Afghanistan.

When I was out on the street, Erin, every day as the Taliban took power, I spoke to many officials, many ordinary Taliban fighters who all went to great lengths to stress that it was not possible that this could happen again. Yet here we are, this hugely seminal symbolic, pivotal figure in al Qaeda. Has now been killed in a drone strike, as you said not in the hinterland, not in the sort of border area, but in the very center of Kabul. It raises serious questions about what the Taliban's intentions are going forward as well.

BURNETT: So, Seth, al-Zawahiri obviously was the leader. He was though at this point 71 years old. But as I showed that video from him last year, very much the leader and continuing on his jihad, how much does his jet change al Qaeda's ability to strike or to threat in the U.S.?

SETH JONES, DIRECTOR, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY PROGRAM AT CNETER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNTIONAL STUDIES: Well, Erin, the challenge for al Qaeda at the moment is in Afghanistan, they've been attempting to rebuild their infrastructure including their external operation capability. But it's going to take some time for them to do it, it's going to take time to build a training camp so they're starting to build in parts of eastern Afghanistan.

The death of al-Zawahiri, is certainly a blow. He is and has been since the death of Osama bin Laden the most important al Qaeda figure, the one that has talked more significantly to the al Qaeda franchise, across the globe, and has been historically even during the bin Laden years, probably one of the most influential religious leaders including through some of his texts like under the prophet's banner.

So, this will be a short term, possibly a midterm blow to al Qaeda. But I think as everybody has said here including Clarissa, the fact that this was done in Kabul, and the fact that a recent U.N. report noted that the number of al Qaeda fighters has doubled since the Taliban took over in Afghanistan, does have some very serious concerns over -- over the midterm.


BURNETT: Right, right, that doesn't just go away overnight, despite the significance of this moment.

So, John, I -- you know, briefly showed the video of al-Zawahiri talking about the U.S. as broken and depleted. Specifically, he was talking about the chaotic and messy American pull out, Biden's pull out of Afghanistan last year. What is the significance of this strike, a drone strike in the capital in the context of that withdrawal from Afghanistan?

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: The fact that it comes one year after that, where he was taunting the United States, taunting us about 9/11, taunting about the messy withdrawal, saying that we were broken and defeated. Well, now, he's not only broken and defeated but dead. I do think that 21 years after 9/11, it's a reminder that justice delayed is not always justice denied.

And that also as Clarissa and Seth pointed out and Secretary Panetta, the Taliban complaining about the violation of the Doha agreement is absurd, because the first -- one of the first key elements of it was that they would not give shelter to al Qaeda, or terrorist organizations, here, clearly, they were. The silver lining is, that lie, ultimately perhaps ended up the targeting of al-Zawahiri after 21 years.

BURNETT: Secretary Panetta, what do you make of the location here that he was in the capital of capital of Kabul? And, again, we don't know the intelligence that led to this. Obviously, a drone strike doesn't happen without intelligence on the ground. I mean, I'm stating the obvious here, we don't know how all those things tied together with the sources were, but nonetheless we do know the location, Secretary.

PANETTA: Well, frankly, it's not much of a surprise our concern was that if the Taliban took over Afghanistan, they would again create a safe haven for terrorists. That's what they did before. And that's exactly what they continue to do. And the result is that it doesn't surprise me that al-Zawahiri, was finding some safe haven in Kabul.

The problem is, I believe our intelligence continued to maintain intelligence network in Kabul, throughout Afghanistan because they had a legitimate fear that because of what the Taliban was doing that terrorism could again, spring forth from Afghanistan. And that's why Zawahiri pay the price for that.

BURNETT: Since, Clarissa, since you have spent time there and of course you were there during the chaotic withdrawal, as people were desperately trying to get out of the airport. So many of them, people who worked, helped the United States, when you think about how this intelligence happened -- you know, we're going to hear more from the president we know he's going to speak for several minutes here. Maybe we will we'll get more details about what happened.

It does appear, Clarissa, the Taliban announcing saying we confirm, what do you read into that, if they're quick to say that now?

WARD: Well, I think they're trying to get ahead of this, right? I think they're trying to say, immediately we're aware this, we're going to announce this, we're going to say that it was a drone strike. The rumor mill in the background is also going into overdrive, casting aspersions on Pakistan potentially, that they were somehow involved in providing the intelligence and to really get their narrative straight. And to say, this can happen again.

They've already set such aspirations will damage any future available opportunities of cooperation between the U.S., and Taliban in Afghanistan going forward. The reality is, that relationship is severely damaged in the Taliban does not have a lot of recourse for how it can really decide to repair it.

So, I think that you're seeing some damage control I do think it's very interesting that they broke that information, I don't think you're going to hear much more from them in terms of how exactly al- Zawahiri ended up in Kabul, whose home he was staying in, and will be very interesting to hear what President Biden says on that topic if he goes into the specifics of it all. It's possible that they will continue to hold some of that back for obvious reasons, but also to have more leverage with the Taliban going forward.

BURNETT: Right. And, of course, high interest in that. Seth, you said a couple things that I want to make sure everyone heard. You talked about camps that that have been resurrected in certain parts of Afghanistan. You talked about a doubling in al Qaeda recruitments since the Taliban took over.

What else should we know about that is currently happening right now in the Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, which obviously there has been a haven for terror?

JONES: Well, Erin, we do need to remind everyone that Islamic State, ISIS in Khorasan province, continues to operate from Afghanistan and there are other groups that have been active, the Pakistan Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, the army of the righteous, active in Afghanistan.


So, there are other terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan that have moved across the border like al-Zawahiri himself, from Pakistan into Afghanistan since the Taliban's takeover.

And I would just add one other thing, having been involved in a range of these counterterrorism operations. It's certainly one thing to conduct one drone strike against an individual. But if there is a campaign that is required to conduct action against al-Qaeda or other groups, the U.S. is in a pretty tough position to do that right now.

BURNETT: Right, just doesn't have -- having them there.

John, quickly before we go, because, obviously, the president is going to be speaking in just a few moments, so we're going to be taking -- be listening to this live. This is a huge moment for him, right? Obviously, he's had some domestic achievements here on the policy side, but this is a very big moment. And Afghanistan is something he doesn't necessarily want to have to talk about again.


BURNETT: But this is the moment he does want to pound the table on but he's got to get it right.

AVLON: He does, and he needs to be obviously clear that this is a victory for America that goes far beyond party, or even a particular president. It happened under his watch. It is a victory for the military and intelligence facilities who got this done. But it's important that he crystallize this as a book end to an era following on from the killing of bin Laden, and some justice finally for the victims of 9/11.

BURNETT: All right. All of you, thank you very much. Please stay with me, though, because as I said, we are standing by for President Biden's address to the nation. We will all be there for that, and when he speaks live in just a few moments.

And, China -- all this happening as China's threatening the United States in an unprecedented way. Warning it won't sit idly by as Speaker Nancy Pelosi visits Taiwan. Tonight, the Biden administration responding. And we are also just hours away from polls opening in five crucial

states, one of the biggest primaries, Arizona, where Trump-backed election denier is the leading contender to oversee that state's elections.


BURNETT: Tonight, the Biden administration warning Beijing that it better not respond to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi makes a trip to Taiwan. Sources tell CNN the House speaker will visit the island during her trip to Asia this week, should be the highest level American official to visit in 25 years.

And tonight, China's flexing its military might, showing what retaliation could look like. They released a propaganda video claiming it would, quote, bury incoming enemies, while showcasing warship, fighter jets, and weapons, including bunker busters which are designed to penetrate underground bunkers.

The White House saying today, it won't engage in a tit-for-tat with Beijing.


JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL SPOKESPERSON: We will not take the bait, engage in saber-rattling, at the same time, we will not be intimidated.


BURNETT: But U.S. officials have acknowledged that the Pentagon is working around the clock to monitor any and all Chinese movements in the region and in the Straits of Taiwan.

Selina Wang is OUTFRONT. She is in Beijing tonight.

And, Selina, what is China saying, like what's being put out to the domestic audience about a possible visit by the third most powerful political figure in the United States, House Speaker Pelosi?

SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, their state media China's telling people that this is a reckless act that is provoking a powerful China with a powerful military. They're painting Pelosi as this hostile figure, she's known for a long history of being tougher on China and saying Pelosi's just doing this to further selfish political interests. They're also saying that if Pelosi visits, this will be a direct challenge to China's sovereignty. All of this tough language, these threats we're hearing around what China's military can do, that there will be a powerful reaction, that is as much pointed to the U.S. as it is to the political audience, domestic audience here at home, because this is a moment when Xi Jinping cannot look.

We are just months away from a key political meeting when he's expected to step into an unprecedented third term. August 1st is also China's military anniversary so we are seeing a string of these propaganda videos showing China's military hardware with these messages to prepare for war. There's also been several recent military drills including one this week around Pingtan Island, which is China's closest point to Taiwan, just over 77 miles away.

Now, you cannot overstate just how important Taiwan is to the communist party, to its legitimacy, to its very DNA. But at the same time, most experts I speak to including here in Beijing say that this is just tough language, Beijing does not want this conflict to escalate. So, the question is how does Beijing respond in a way that shows its anger, that seeks face for Xi Jinping while also not risking that, all of this spirals into a real conflict -- Erin.

BURNETT: Right. You know, of course, what would be a massive war. Thank you very much, Selina, live from Beijing.

I want to go now to retired Major General Spider Marks who served as an intelligence officer in Asia.

So, General Marks, let's start with U.S. response here. Secretary Blinken said today that Congress is independents coequal branch of government. The decision is entirely the speakers as to whether she goes to Taiwan. Do you think, General, that Biden should be trying to stop Pelosi from going or not?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I think that -- you know, look, it's a statement of the obvious. We certainly have separation from different branches.


MARKS: But I think it's foolish that the president would say, look, this belongs to the speaker. The United States must establish what its policy is going to be vis-a-vis, Beijing, as well as Taipei.

And it's been clear, a relationship with Taipei has established in 1979 with the Taiwan Relations Act. We wrap that in strategic ambiguity, right? We told the world, will sell them goods, will interact with them but it's one China, it's two systems, but tests us in Taiwan and let's see what the United States will do.

So, I don't think that the speaker needs to go to Taiwan to reinforce the TRA. It exists. But I do think the president should be very emphatic about what U.S. policy is, call off the speaker and say -- recommend you don't go.

BURNETT: All right. So, obviously, he hasn't done that, there's been no indication he well and we don't expect that this is to be eminent.

Now, Selina's reporting, right, that Xi Jinping cannot leak we coming in to these crucial communist party meetings this fall. They cannot look weak, that they have to do something. They feel that they have to do something. But what is that something? I mean, General, you know, that is short of causing a broader conflagration?

I mean --

MARKS: Right.

BURNETT: -- is there a way out of this that both preserves face for them and for the U.S., or are we teetering here?

MARKS: No, I don't think we're teetering. There could be an asymmetric response. The United States navy has routine ships on patrol in the waters off Taiwan. There could be some type of a provocation, not eminent in terms of shots being fired, but you can see the Chinese get up close and personal either using that through aircraft or through their own naval vessels against U.S. patrol ships.

Or it could be the Chinese exercising their patience, in doing nothing other than speaking very aggressively.

BURNETT: All right. General Marks, thank you very much.

Obviously, an incredibly potent moment in Asia.

And, next, President Biden is about to address the nation about the terrorist right after the U.S. kills the leader of al Qaeda, Ayman al- Zawahiri. We're going to bring this to you live, the president of the United States beginning in just a couple of moments.

Also, we are just hours away from voters in five key states going to the polls. One of those states, Arizona, where this race has turned into a war in the GOP, between Trump and Pence.



BURNETT: Breaking news: you are looking at live pictures inside the White House.

President Biden will be approaching that podium in just a few moments here and will be speaking live on the death of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. Multiple sources tell us that Zawahiri was killed over the weekend in a drone strike in Afghanistan in the capital of Afghanistan, Kabul. As I said, the president of the United States will be walking up to that podium in just a few seconds here.

In the meantime, I want to bring in Jeremy Diamond.

So, Jeremy, obviously, this is -- this is a very important moment. This is going to be very scripted moment. This is an address to the nation in primetime.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is. It's the first time we've heard directly from President Biden on the counter intelligence operation since last February when President Biden was able to announce that the U.S. had conducted a successful rate to kill the leader of ISIS in Syria.

Tonight, we are expecting President Biden to announce that the U.S. has conducted a successful drone strike to kill al-Qaeda's leader, al- Zawahiri, the 71-year-old leader of al-Qaeda, formerly Osama bin Laden's deputy, who -- more than anybody else besides Osama bin Laden helped shaped al Qaeda into not only would it is today, but when it was particularly in nearly 2000s when al Qaeda was at its most potent.

We are now -- I think it's also important to keep in mind that this is coming nearly a year after the U.S. withdrawal for Afghanistan, and at the time -- the importance of the United States maintaining that over the horizon capability, to be able to go after terrorists in Afghanistan should they pose a threat to the United States. That is exactly what appears to have happened here as we have learned that this drone strike took out al-Zawahiri, a strike that would likely not have required any U.S. personnel on the ground for it to be conducted.

And so, tonight is certainly a vindication for President Biden of those capabilities, capabilities that were questioned at the time when the U.S. was pulling out. These questions were raised of whether or not the U.S. would be able to target any terrorist threats to the United States in Afghanistan without the manpower there and now here comes the president.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Fellow Americans, on Saturday, at my direction, the United States successfully concluded an air strike in Kabul, Afghanistan, that killed the emir of al Qaeda, Ayman Al-Zawahiri.

You know, Al-Zawahiri was bin Laden's leader. He was with him the whole time. He was his number two man, his deputy at the time of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. He was deeply involved in the planning of 9/11, one of the most responsible for the attacks and murdered 2,977 people on American soil.

For decades, he was a mastermind behind attacks against Americans, including the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, which killed 17 American sailors and wounded dozens more. He played a key role -- key role on the bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 224 and wounding over 4,500 others.

He carved a trail of murder and violence against American citizens, American service members and American diplomats and American interests.

And since the United States delivered justice in Bin Laden 11 years ago, al-Zawahiri has been a leader of al Qaeda, the leader. From hiding, he coordinated al Qaeda's branches and all around the world, including setting priorities for providing operational guidance and called for and inspired attacks against U.S. targets. He made videos, including the 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. People around the world no longer need to fear this vicious undetermined killer.

The United States continues to demonstrate our resolve and our capacity to defend the American people against those who seek to do us harm. You know, we -- we make it clear again tonight that no matter how long it takes, no matter where you hide, if you are a threat to our people, the United States will find you and take you out.

After relentlessly seeking al-Zawahiri for years under President Bush, Obama and Trump, our intelligence community located Zawahiri earlier this move. He had moved to downtown capital to reunite with members of his immediate family.


After carefully considering a clear and convincing evidence of his location, I authorized a precision strike that would remove him from the battlefield once and for all. This mission was carefully planned, rigorously minimizing the risk of harm's to other civilians. And one week ago, after being advised that the conditions were optimal, I gave the final approval to go get him.

And the mission was a success. None of his family members were hurt and there are no civilian casualties.

I'm sharing this news with the American people now after confirming the mission's total success through the painstaking work of our counterterrorism community and key allies and partners.

My administration has kept congressional leaders informed as well. When I ended our military mission in Afghanistan almost one year ago, I made a decision that after 20 years of war, the United States no longer needed thousands of boots on the ground in Afghanistan to protect America from terrorists who seek to do us harm.

And I made a promise to the American people that we continue to conduct effective counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan and beyond. We've done just that.

In February, our forces conducted a daring mission in Syria that eliminated an emir of ISIS. Last month, we took out another key ISIS leader. Now, we have eliminated the emir of al Qaeda. We will never again -- never again allow Afghanistan to become a terrorist safe haven, because he is gone, and we're going to make sure that nothing else happens.

You know, it can't be a launching pad against the United States. We're going to see to it that won't happen. This operation is a clear demonstration that we will, we can, and will always make good on the solemn pledge. My administration will continue to vigilantly monitor and address threats from al Qaeda no matter where they emanate from.

As commander in chief, it is my solemn responsibility to make America safe in a dangerous world. The United States did not seek this war against terror. It came to us.

We answered with the same principles and resolve that have shaped us for generation upon generation -- to protect the innocent, to defend liberty, and we keep the light of freedom burning, a beacon for the rest of the entire world because this is a great and defining truth about our nation and our people. We do not break. We never give in. We never backed down. Last year in September 11th, I once more paid my respect to Ground

Zero in New York City, at that quiet of field of Shanksville, at the Pentagon -- and at the Pentagon. Standing at the memorial at Ground Zero, seeing the names of those who died forever etched in bronze -- it's a powerful reminder of the sacred promise we made as a nation. We will never forget.

The memorial also bears the quotation from Virgil: No day shall erase you from the memory of time. No day shall erase you from the memory of time.

So, we continue to mourn every innocent live that was stolen in 9/11, and honor their memories. To the families who lost fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, friends and coworkers, on that serious September day, it is my hope that this decisive action will bring one more measure of closure. No day shall erase them from the memory of time, today and every day.

I'm so grateful for the superb patriots who served the United States intelligence community and counterterrorism communities. They never forget. Those dedicated women and men who tirelessly worked every single day to keep our country safe to prevent future tragedies. It is thanks to their extraordinary persistence and skill that this operation was a success. It makes all safer.

And to those around the world who continue to seek to harm the United States, hear me now -- we will always remain vigilant and we will act, and we will always do what is necessary to ensure the safety and security of Americans at home and around the globe.

Today, we remember the lost, we commit ourselves to the safety of the living, and we pledge that we shall never waver from defending our nation and its people.

Thank you all and may God protect our troops and all those who served in harm's way. We will never -- we will never give up.

BURNETT: And you just heard the president in the United States speaking about the successful drone strike against Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al Qaeda in the capital city of Afghanistan, Kabul.

He spoke for about 8 minutes there from the White House. Our panel is with me, but I want to go back to the White House and Jeremy Diamond first.

Because we learn some things there, Jeremy, from the president. He talked about how the United States was able to ascertain that Zawahiri was in Afghanistan earlier this year, in downtown Kabul, and he said that one week ago, they were given convincing evidence that they knew exactly where he was, and the timing was right, and he gave the final approval.

Those are details, but do you know more of the details about the strike that was conducted, when, of course, there are no U.S. forces in Afghanistan? JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, that's right. A

senior administration official did brief us with some additional details of how this came together, and this was, as it's so often the case with the situations, a painstaking progress of gathering and confirming intelligence, and ensuring that it was to the highest possible degree of confidence before President Biden ultimately gave the okay one week ago today on July 25th when the president convened a final meeting we're told, with his key cabinet members, that all of them strongly recommended approval of his target admission, we're told, and President Biden gave the okay.

But this was a painstaking progress -- process over the last year. Initially, we're told U.S. intelligence officials learned that al- Zawahiri's family had moved to a safe house in Kabul. They then were able to confirm that Zawahiri himself had moved into that safe house as well.

Interestingly, U.S. officials say or the senior administration official says that Zawahiri did not once to their knowledge leave the safe house, but here is where he was ultimately targeted, on the balcony of this safe house, is allegedly when this strike took place, according to the senior administration official. And the strike was done in a way, according to the U.S., no civilian casualties occurred, which is pretty remarkable when you think about the fact that two hellfire missiles we are told were fired on this balcony where al- Zawahiri was late on Saturday night Eastern Time, and then only he was killed when the strike was done with the intention of ensuring that the structural integrity of the building, where Zawahiri's family presumably was personally as well, that that building would not collapse.

And we're told that the president actually examined a model, Erin, of this safe house in the Situation Room during a July 1st meeting. He examined this house. He asked questions about the structural integrity to try to ensure that there would be a minimal risk to any civilians in the area.

BURNETT: Jeremy, thank you very much.

All of this new reporting that Germany is breaking here.

Let's go back to the panel. First, former CIA director Leon Panetta when, of course, Osama Bin Laden was taken.

Director, what do you take away from what we just heard from the president, and some of the details that Jeremy just added her in his reporting? Two hellfire missiles taking out Ayman al-Zawahiri while he was on the balcony and that this was the final go ahead was given basically a week ago. But when you look at the timeline that the president laid out that Jeremy is giving more detail on, what do you take away from it, Director?

LEON PANETTA, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: I think the most important thing is that we need to pay tribute to our intelligence and military officials that were involved in the strike. They gathered the right intelligence. They were able to target Zawahiri without any kind of collateral damage. It was a well-planned and well-executed targeting of a terrorist.

And, you know, just as I said, when we got bin Laden, it sends a message to the world that nobody attacked the United States and gets away with it.

BURNETT: Clarissa, you talk about this neighborhood, right? You've been there. You know when these villas are like and they said that when Zawahiri went there, the president said he never left and that then he joined his family. He was on the balcony when this happened and two hellfire missiles as Jeremy is reporting took him out.

What do you take away from what we just learned, Clarissa?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, I think the main takeaway for me is trying to get a little bit of a better sense as to who invited Zawahiri to spend time in Kabul? Who thought that that was a good idea?

It's impossible, obviously, that he was in the Sherpur neighborhood, which is favored and frequented and many Taliban leaders have villas there, without some kind of an expressed invitation. I mean, we just heard from Zawahiri himself on July 13th, I believe, was his last audio message.

A U.N. panel of experts just last week was talking about the fact that he was communicating more often and with a higher level of comfort, and there was this real concern that essentially you are seeing a kind of regrouping, if you will.


Now, it appeared that there was no capacity or capability yet for launching transnational attacks, so perhaps the focus wasn't quite as keenly of the moment. But with Zawahiri being killed, it does raise real questions going forward about how the U.S. can continue its relationship to the extent that there is one with the Taliban and how the Taliban, if they even will try to explain the situation will indeed explain it, and whether some senior leadership of the Taliban were somehow involved with his presence in the capital and what that portends for the future.

So, you know, it's obviously a significant victory for the U.S., but still, a lot of questions going forward about what this means.

BURNETT: And among those questions, Seth, something the president said that stood out to me was sort of, it's trying to make the argument that even though the U.S. was gone from Afghanistan, look, we were able to do this, OK? But took it a step further that know that Zawahiri was taken out, you know, we're going to make sure that that never happens again in terms of al Qaeda being given safe sanctuary.

Obviously, Seth, did he go too far with the way he phrased that?

JONES: Well, I think any American official has to be a little bit careful here. I think, on the one hand, Secretary Panetta is exactly right. This was an extraordinary example of great intelligence work by U.S. intelligence and military officials, painstakingly tracking Zawahiri and then conducting a precise attack against him.

On the other hand, if we're talking about concerns about broader terrorist sanctuaries in Afghanistan, the reality is the U.S. doesn't have a base in the region, doesn't have a partner force on the ground, and it doesn't have a significant intelligence infrastructure, because most of it left when the U.S. pulled out in August. That does create some hurdles for any kind of a sustained campaign if the U.S. becomes alarmed at growing plotting.

And, you know, a recent U.N. Security Council report just out over the last couple of weeks does express growing concern about not just al Qaeda, but other groups operating from Afghanistan. That's a little bit of the longer term challenge.

BURNETT: Right, John, how do you think he handled the moment? Obviously, this was -- this was a scripted speech from the teleprompter. About 8 minutes long. They had, obviously, very carefully scripted it. How did he do?

AVLON: Look, I think from delivery standpoint, there were moments where he was clear and scripts saying we will find you and take you out. And there are other moments that did not live up to perhaps grab you in the moment. But those kinds of critiques are small compared to the moment objectively for the country.

And I just want to bring it back home. You know, he spoke -- the president spoke about how this was in some ways promises kept to the families of the victims of 9/11. As you know, I worked in city hall at that time and was across -- you know, a couple of blocks away when the towers fell and I'm wearing a bracelet for Terry Hatton, captain of Rescue 1 who died that day that I keep it on my desk and had every day since.

I felt myself being emotional at this news, because this is in some ways been the shoe that didn't drop even 10 years after bin Laden, knowing that Zawahiri was still out there. And the fact that the U.S. took him out with a drone strike and took such care to minimize civilian casualties, apparently having none. That's more than Zawahiri or his colleagues did every day of their lives, where they intentionally targeted civilians.

And that's what makes us such a profound moment for the country, just everyone who lived through 9/11.

BURNETT: Director Panetta, it's amazing what John raises and the president made clear, not just no civilians were killed, but no members of Zawahiri's family, that there was such care taken, right? Using the scale model, waiting into that moment he walked out of the balcony.

Director, how does this moment feel for you? When you were there as director, with the intelligence with Osama bin Laden, you were there the day that he was taken out, and now here we are on this night with Ayman al-Zawahiri finally gone.

PANETTA: Yeah, it's a little bit different of an operation, because we had to send two teams of SEALs 150 miles into Pakistan at night to go after bin Laden, which obviously, again, was a tribute to the intelligence and military officials involved.

Here as a drone strike, which is something that we have done in counterterrorism operations a lot, but it does require very good intelligence on the ground, frankly, and as well as other sources of intelligence to be able to make sure that you have the right target, because that would be a horrendous mistake if you don't have the right target.

So, having the right intelligence, being able to plan it, doing the hit when he walked out on the balcony is all part of the careful responsibility involved with these drawn strikes that makes it a very effective weapon when it comes to going after terrorists.


BURNETT: It is -- it is, actually, when you think about it simply incredible. And the questions raised about the intelligence on the ground -- still, so many good questions that we will find more answers to in the coming days.

Thank you all very much for your time tonight.

And next, in these evening hours, we are now getting ready for polls tomorrow. Two Trump-backed election deniers are on the ballot in Arizona's crucial primary. So, how is their message playing?

And we're going to take you to Kentucky where there's a race against time to locate those missing after the catastrophic flooding today.


BURNETT: Tonight, the midterms now just 99 days away. And tomorrow, voters are heading to the polls in 5 states for primary elections. One of them, Michigan, where a crowded field of candidates includes a man charged in the Capitol attack.

And in Arizona, Mark Finchem, a Trump backed conspiracy theorist is a leading contender to the Arizona's next secretary state. He says he won't concede if he loses.

Kyung Lah is in Arizona and she joins me now.

I mean, Kyung, it's hard to even read that sentence. It's disturbing, but the governor's race has turned into a proxy war between Trump and Pence with Trump backing Kari Lake, Pence endorsing Karrin Taylor Robson. You've obviously been covering this. You've spoken to the contenders.

Whose endorsement has more weight?

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a little hard to tell at this point, and polling here, especially in the governor's race, has shown one over the other. Depending on what day and what time these polls are released. So, it's very difficult to tell. But what we can say is that when the primary voters, these Republican

voters go to the polls tomorrow, we will find out at the results of all of this is, does Trump still have a hold on the Republican Party here in Arizona? Kari Lake has fully embraced Trump's election lie. She has said that if she is governor, when she was -- if she was governor in 2020, she would not have certified the states election results.

Now, contrast that with Karrin Taylor Robson who's taken a half step back and she has basically been backed by Mike Pence saying that what she wants to do is that her party no longer looks back in 2020, and instead is looking forward to 2024 and beyond and beyond Trump.


There's also Blake Masters who has embraced the Trump lie. The question here, Erin, is with these results will show at the end of the day. There are not just governor and U.S. senate, that Trump has endorsed an attorney general as well as secretary of state, Mark Finchem, as you mention, and these candidates, all of them have said that they embrace the lie and many of them have also said, Erin, that they believe that there could be conspiracies in this election, teeing up some of those conspiracies just in case they lose -- Erin.

BURNETT: Kyung, thank you very much live in Arizona, ahead of those polls opening tomorrow.

And next, we are live in Kentucky which is tonight bracing for more rain as the water rises and hundreds and hundreds are missing.


BURNETT: Tonight, a race against time in flood ravaged Kentucky. At least 37 people were killed, hundreds remain unaccounted for after last week's catastrophic flooding. More rains in the forecast. New flood watches have been issued in areas where search and rescue efforts have already been hampered by washed out roads and bridges.

Evan McMorris-Santoro is in OUTFRONT in Perry County, Kentucky, to the eastern part of the state.

So, Evan, you know, you are there seeing this firsthand. What's it like on the ground there right now?

EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, it can be hard to capture the size of the devastation here with one camera. I am standing next to a creek here along Route 28 in Perry County. We are understanding a house were blown off the foundation traveling down this road.

But it's not just here. We put this in and drawn up earlier today and you could see all along this route 28 where we are, you see the devastation everywhere on both sides. As the water has receded we are seeing more and more of this damage while people are trying to figure out with going to do next.

Here's one person in Whitesburg talking about what's going to happen to his house.


TERRY BURNS, KENTUCKY RESDIDENT: Basically, it's all destroyed. Anything that was touched by the floodwaters, it had mud all in it. Any of our clothes that were down in the lower hanging are gone. All of our furniture gone.


MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Erin, that devastation is just starting to reveal itself because some of these waters have receded, but there is a real scary problem on the rise, which is that tonight, there is more rain forecast and in some places that have already been hit are now currently under a flood watch. It's just the worst possible news to have your in this part of Kentucky, Erin.


BURNETT: And, Evan, I mean, these images are pretty stunning. I can't imagine ever seen anything like this before, bridges just blown out.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: That's right. It's not just me. People who have lived here in this part of Kentucky, it rains a lot here. They live in valleys. They're used to flooding, but nobody here as ever seen anything like this.

People who thought their houses were well outside of ever having worried being flooded, picked up and washed away, everything gone. It's just an unbelievable scene, Erin.

BURNETT: Evan, thank you very much, reporting on the ground there in eastern Kentucky.

Thanks so much to all of you for joining us.

"AC360" starts now.