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Transcript: The ReidOut, 8/1/22

Guests: Trita Parsi, Nayyera Haq, Peter Beinart, Lucas Kunce, David Rohde


President Biden announces that the U.S. has killed al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a drone strike in Afghanistan. Republicans block legislation to expand benefits for veterans who became ill after being exposed to toxic burn pits while serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. Two icons, actress Nichelle Nichols and basketball legend Bill Russell, are remembered.


JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, everyone.

We begin THE REIDOUT tonight with that breaking news we have been following on MSNBC.

President Biden is expected to announce to the nation later this hour regard regarding a major counterterrorism operation. You may remember this 11 years ago, as President Obama announced the successful operation to kill Osama bin Laden.

Tonight, President Biden is expected to announce that the United States has achieved its next biggest target, after confirming a short time ago a successful counterterrorism strike against a -- quote -- "significant al Qaeda target" over the weekend.

Sources familiar with the operation tell NBC News that Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda`s leader and a former deputy to Osama bin Laden on 9/11, was killed by a CIA drone strike in Kabul. The administration has not confirmed al-Zawahiri was the target ahead of the president`s remarks.

A senior administration official said there were no civilian casualties in the mission. Al-Zawahiri has been on the run for years. And his history of violence extends well beyond his role in planning 9/11.

The Egyptian doctor was at one point arrested in connection with the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and was indicted in 1999 for the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in the capitals of Kenya and Tanzania that killed hundreds and injured thousands more.

Joining me now is NBC News chief White House correspondent Kristen Welker.

Kristen, what do we know about what the president is going to announce or any details that have been released about this operation?

KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the details are still coming in, Joy.

What we know is that President Biden is going to announce that Ayman al- Zawahiri was killed over the weekend in a counterterrorism operation. The president will say that no civilians were killed in this operation.

And I anticipate that we will learn more about how exactly this came about and how that operation was carried out, some of those fine details.But it does come just about a year after the U.S. withdrew U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

And you will recall that, at the time, the president was widely criticized for that withdrawal, with official saying that it had been botched. And so this is really a moment in which the president`s new strategy as it relates to Afghanistan -- the pledge at the time, Joy, was that it would focus on counterterrorism -- is now coming to fruition, with word that they have taken out this leader of al Qaeda.

To give a little bit more background and backdrop to who this person was, al-Zawahiri was someone who was considered the ideological leader of al Qaeda when Osama bin Laden led the group. He was considered to be one of the key masterminds behind the September 11 attacks.

So this is significant for a range of different reasons. And he did, of course, take over after Osama bin Laden was killed. Now, people debate his level of effectiveness. He`s 71 years old. But, nonetheless, he was still someone who was there at the helm of al Qaeda.

Now, according to "The New York Times," he was found in a safe house. That is significant. It suggests that there is a level of communication between terrorist groups. Apparently, this was a Taliban safe house.

A little bit of backdrop broadly to what we have been covering at the White House, Joy, which is President Biden, who, of course, contracted COVID, he was taking Paxlovid, he tested negative and then he tested positive again. So he is one of those rebound cases, so all of this unfolding, as the president has been recovering from COVID.

So he`s going to be speaking from the Blue Room balcony. He will be outside because of all of this. And, of course, he has been grappling with issues on the domestic front, soaring inflation. They just got that surprise reconciliation deal, and now this, what is a significant development on the world stage and for the Biden foreign policy, Joy.

REID: And I don`t know, Kristen, whether any readouts have been released in advance of what the president`s remarks will entail.

But to go back to what you said just a moment ago, this development would seem to bolster the case that was made by the president, by the administration in leaving Afghanistan, that the United States was capable of continuing to pursue those who were behind 9/11 without having to have masses of troops on the ground.

The fact that this was a CIA operation would seem to be very significant in terms of confirming that theory of the case. Do we know whether the president is going to go ahead and make that affirmative case for his strategy? Because this definitely does seem to bear out the idea that he had of getting the troops out and having the troops here back at home, but being able to conduct such an operation.

WELKER: No, I think you`re exactly right.

We haven`t gotten a specific preview of his remarks, Joy, but I would anticipate that that`s exactly what you are going to hear from President Biden, that he is going to speak to the fact that he made this commitment as a candidate to bring U.S. troops home, and to make this shift as it relates to counterterrorism, and that this is a key part of his policy that is now playing out, and that he will, I would anticipate, make the case that this is an indication that the policy is working, at least in this instance, that they were able to take out this leader of al Qaeda.


It`s certainly significant, both from a strategic perspective, but also symbolically. You recall that, when former President Obama announced the killing of Osama bin Laden, the powerful moment that that was in his presidency.

And I would also just point to one other fact, Joy. Compare this moment and the early reporting that this was done by the CIA -- and, again, the president will need to confirm that. NBC News has not yet confirmed that this was a CIA operation. But just compare that to the killing of Osama bin Laden, that picture of former President Obama, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was looking.

And there you see it. She had her hand up to her face as this was unfolding minute by minute, and those who were in the Situation Room at the time, describing what was a harrowing, hours-long operation to kill Osama bin Laden, to find him where he was hiding out.

Now, the operational details undoubtedly will be significant and really interesting to learn. But it looks like it could be a very sharp contrast with that operation that took out Osama bin Laden, Joy.

REID: And look who is sitting in that photo right beside former President Obama, then Vice President Joe Biden, quite full circle on this day.

Let`s bring him -- thank you very much, Kristen. Really appreciate you, Kristen Welker.

WELKER: Thanks, Joy.

REID: Cheers.

Let`s bring in David Rohde, executive editor for "The New Yorker." And he and two colleagues were kidnapped by members of the Taliban outside of Kabul in 2008.

And, Rohde, I would love to get your thoughts on this development today, given all the context you just heard from Kristen Welker about sort of the conflagration among many in the political world in this country when the U.S. pulled out of Afghanistan after a 20-year war.

This would definitely seem to kind of affirm the strategy. But what do you make of these developments, as we know of them so far?

DAVID ROHDE, "THE NEW YORKER": I -- it`s definitely a step forward. It`s an amazing telling intelligence operation to have located him and found him.

But I will say I`m concerned. One of the concerns in the U.S. pullout of Afghanistan was, would the Taliban shelter al Qaeda members? And that the news reports -- I haven`t confirmed this myself -- are that Zawahiri was in a Taliban safe house, so the Taliban were protecting him.

So I think this is a step forward. It shows the importance having continued U.S. counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan, but it is deeply concerning to me that the Taliban appear to have been sheltering the leader of al Qaeda so soon after U.S. troops pulled out of Afghanistan.

I`m not suggesting U.S. troops go back into Afghanistan. But we should be asking the Taliban, why were they sheltering the leader of al Qaeda?

REID: It is a fair point.

But I would wonder. I mean, the relationship between the Taliban and al Qaeda goes all the way back before 9/11, when the Egyptian Islamic Jihad sort of merged with al Qaeda. They were being aided and sheltered by the Taliban, which is why we wound up in this war in Afghanistan.

Do you have a sense just from the reporting and just from your own experience that there was ever a break in that relationship? Because that relationship extends back at this point more than 20 years.

ROHDE: No, there wasn`t.

And then a key player and all this is Pakistan. I mean, if you remember, Osama bin Laden hid in Pakistan.

REID: Yes.

ROHDE: The Pakistani government essentially sheltered him.

Zawahiri was believed to be inside Pakistan, and the Pakistanis sort of backed the Taliban. I mean, one of the reasons the U.S. was unable to succeed was that there were these safe havens in Pakistan, where the Taliban were able to regroup and rearm and reorganize.

Bin Laden was there. That`s where -- again, where he was killed. And that`s probably where Zawahiri was able to hide. So this would suggest that al Qaeda leaders had moved from Pakistan into Afghanistan after the Taliban regained control of the country.

Look, again, 100,000 U.S. ground troops isn`t the answer in Afghanistan. But this does show that the United States again needs to, I think, pressure the Taliban. From a human rights perspective, the Taliban have been banning teenage girls from attending school since U.S. troops withdrew.

So, again, I don`t think an invasion, an American invasion is the answer. But this is a very large question about, who will the Taliban continue to support now that they have a chance?

And I want to give them a chance. They say that they were not going to work with al Qaeda. That`s one of their public statements. That was part of this quasi-peace effort that unraveled in Afghanistan. And they don`t appear to be upholding that promise to not cooperate with al Qaeda.


REID: Well, absolutely.

All the troops -- there`s a reason that Afghanistan is called the graveyard of empires. The British Empire, the Soviets, and the United States, no one has had the ability to subdue that country.

But to your point regarding the leverage that -- discovering the fact that the Taliban was hiding this man, was essentially assisting this number to al Qaeda leader, what kind of leverage might that give the United States?

Because what the Taliban now wants is international legitimacy. They want their government to be recognized. Clearly, this gives the international community some leverage to say, well, you can`t get recognition yet, because you`re already still -- you`re still not playing in the modern world. You`re still sheltering these people.

ROHDE: It does give the U.S. leverage and European countries. There was a real crisis in terms of hunger in Afghanistan, and the Taliban are having trouble, I think, ruling the country.

So I think this is an opportunity for the U.S. to engage aggressively with the Taliban, to push them to sort of turn on al Qaeda decisively, and to use aid and interaction with the outside world as a way to get them to change their behavior.

We can`t simply ignore Afghanistan. We overreacted. We went too far. Twenty years was too long. But this shows that we continue to need to engage in the region through counterterrorism, through diplomacy, through aid, and that we can`t simply turn a blind eye to Afghanistan.

REID: And definitely a useful reminder that presidents have to walk and chew gum and do foreign policy all at the same time. You can`t do it -- you have to kind of do it all. It is a big job.

David Rohde, thank you very much, sir. We really appreciate you being here.

And we`re just moments away from President Biden`s address to the nation on that strike that NBC News has learned killed al Qaeda leader Ayman al- Zawahiri.

We will bring you that live, more breaking news, when THE REIDOUT continues.



REID: As we await remarks by President Biden about a U.S. counterterrorism operation over the weekend in Afghanistan that reportedly killed top al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, we are reminded of the U.S. response to the 9/11 attacks, a war that acutely impacts the 800,000 men and women who served in Afghanistan to this very day.

Recently, legislation was introduced to expand benefits for veterans who became ill after being exposed to toxic burn pits while serving in Afghanistan, as well as in Iraq. But you would think that this would be a bipartisan slam dunk. Well, but no. Instead, this past week, Republicans blocked it.

Joining me now, Lucas Kunce, former Marine officer who served in Afghanistan and Iraq and a candidate for United States Senate in Missouri, and Jonathan Lemire, White House bureau chief for Politico and host of "WAY TOO EARLY" on MSNBC.

Great to have you both here.

And I`m going to start with you, Mr. Kunce, because I note that President Biden, his administration has pulled this off, despite all the criticism for the U.S. finally ending this 20-year war in Afghanistan, pulled this off with a CIA operation, no civilian casualties, 78 years old with COVID.

I actually think this might be an instance where you have to give the president some damn credit, because that is actually a very big deal. This is the number two guy in al Qaeda. And they did it without thousands of troops on the ground.

As someone who served in both of these conflicts, one, the one in Afghanistan, and the one that was ginned up against Iraq, what do you make of this news today?

LUCAS KUNCE (D), MISSOURI SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: Yes, I mean, this is exactly what I`m talking about on the campaign trail just over and over again, the fact that we can accomplish these missions without going over there and spending trillions of dollars, literally trillions of dollars, trying to build these countries up.

We can instead do small high-tech, high-speed operations, accomplish the mission against al Qaeda or whomever, and actually invest here in our own country. And I`m running for the U.S. Senate in a state that needs real investment. People here are suffering. And when you go around, and they all know that we spent trillions of dollars, $6.4 trillion in Iraq and Afghanistan supposedly nation-building there.

But every time there`s a chance to spend a nickel here, nobody wants to spend anything, right? And so this is a good opportunity to show that you can do an infrastructure package and still accomplish the mission over there. I think it`s absolutely critical. And it`s what we need if we`re going to win in places like Missouri.

REID: And, Jonathan Lemire, it`s always ironic, right? The news has a sense of irony.

When President Obama came out and made this announcement about killing Osama bin Laden, it was the day after the White House Correspondents Dinner, the one in which he humiliated Donald Trump, the thing that reportedly convinced Donald Trump that he had to run for president. Just all the optics were very interesting, and he gave no sign of it while he`s giving his -- doing his comedy.

In this -- in this instance, this operation comes at a time when Republicans are literally blocking aid to injured veterans who were injured in burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, and when the former president is literally pretending not to know who did 9/11 and partying with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia on the golf course, kiki-ing with, what`s his name, Tucker Carlson.

So it`s like the ironies are many. What do you make of all of that optic?

JONATHAN LEMIRE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it`s a very good week for President Joe Biden, and that includes a COVID diagnosis.

Despite that, he is now on the brink of a major win in Congress, Democratic reconciliation bill, assuming Senator Kyrsten Sinema votes for it, which most in the party bill leave she will, with a few adjustments along the way. That will be a significant triumph for the president, as well as Democrats heading into the midterms, and now this.


Despite the president still being isolation, he gives the green light for this strike, which is the most successful counterterrorism strike ever in Afghanistan, of course, bin Laden killed in Pakistan. This is a big deal.

REID: Yes.

LEMIRE: Al-Zawahiri was bin Laden`s number two. He`s been running al Qaeda functionally ever since bin Laden was killed. He has blood of hundreds, thousands of Americans, hundreds, thousands of Americans on his hands.

He is someone who is number one on the FBI is most wanted list. This is a significant move, even al Qaeda, in its diminished state, a significant move to take their leader off the chessboard, and does indeed show that this country can take off these over-the-horizon missions where, they can pick off a terror leader, despite not having boots on the ground there in Afghanistan, also does raise questions about Taliban`s relationship with al Qaeda again, if he was able to stay in Kabul until this very moment.

REID: No, absolutely.

And, Lucas Kunce, we`re now learning, NBC News is learning that it was a drone strike that killed Zawahiri, which, again, proves that a drone strike can do the work, that you don`t need 100,000 troops on the ground risking their lives every day away from their families. It got -- that got done.

And I`m wondering what you make of sort of that optic, I mean, the fact that we actually can pull these things off? And people who were saying, but we had to keep our troops there because of the human rights catastrophe that the Taliban represents, I wonder what they think about the former president partying with MBS and taking money from him for a golf tourney?

Because Saudi Arabia, women can`t even drive without permission. It`s not exactly a human rights bulwark.

KUNCE: Yes, I mean, the people who kept us there for years, the same people who said, give us your sons and daughters, give us your trillions of dollars, we`re building something real and lasting here, right, they lied the whole time.

I mean, I believed them until I went there. And then I saw that it was all untrue. And I think the lie that hurts me the most is just how they told me that I was fighting for freedom over there. They told us all we were fighting for freedom.

But, really, like, I have seen on this campaign show the last few months, like, the real fight for freedom, it`s right here. The front lines for the fight for freedom and democracy, it`s right here in Missouri, right? Abortion rights are on the line. Voting rights are on the line. That`s not in Afghanistan for us. That`s for us right here, right?

It`s all on the line in Missouri. And so you just see that as a veteran who has been exposed to burn pits. You see these Republicans first take away all of our rights or attack them. And then the people they sent over there, they won`t even take care of us and they try to hold us politically hostage. It`s absolutely criminal.

That`s what I`m running against here. It`s why I`m thrilled to be doing this race. And we got to -- we got to win here on the front lines of democracy, so that we got to keep our country intact.

REID: Yes, let`s never forget Saudi Arabia was as culpable, at least according to the CIA, as the Taliban and others when it came to 9/11, al Qaeda.

Lucas Kunce, Jonathan Lemire.

Jonathan, we got to get you back on to talk about your book. The book is "The Big Lie." So we`re going to have you back just to talk about that. Thank you very much.

By the way, Jonathan`s new book, "The Big Lie," is actually out now. You should go and pick it up.

President Biden`s -- meanwhile, President Biden`s address to the nation is coming up in just moments, so stay right there.



REID: We continue to follow breaking news.

NBC News has learned that a U.S. counterterrorism operation in Afghanistan this weekend killed Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda`s leader and a former deputy to Osama bin Laden on 9/11. President Biden will deliver remarks just moments from now.

And joining me right now is Andrea Mitchell, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent, John Brennan, former CIA director, Peter Beinart, editor at large of Jewish Currents, and Trita Parsi, also of NB -- correspondent Trita Parsi.

Let`s start with you, Mr. Brennan, because this was a CIA operation. I think we have been talking with several of our guests earlier this hour about the fact that it really does sort of give -- give truth to President Biden`s theory of the case that we can conduct these operations on a much smaller-scale level without hundreds of thousands of troops on the ground.

This appears to have borne that out. What can we learn -- what do you expect to learn from the president about the details of the CIA operation?

JOHN BRENNAN, MSNBC SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, we will learn the details of the operation from President Biden.

But it seems as though there was a very successful strike against a leading al Qaeda or terrorist figure, and possibly Ayman al-Zawahiri. If that is the case, as you point out, Joy, then President Biden has been true to his word that, after the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, as well as intelligence of personnel, that the United States was going to be able to maintain a capability to find, track down and take action when appropriate against terrorist targets, especially those that present a threat to U.S. personnel and interests.

And Ayman al-Zawahiri, who has been the number one in al Qaeda for the last 11 years, certainly did present such a threat, because he`s been the ideological leader, but also the fact that he was able to move from where we thought he was in Pakistan for many, many years into Afghanistan and into the capital, and the reports about his being in a home that was, whether it be a Haqqani official or Haqqani member, this is something that I think really is worrisome, because what did Zawahiri plan to do in Kabul?

And are the links now with the Taliban and with the Haqqani elements within the Taliban, have they been reconstituted for some type of potential terrorist strikes?


And so, therefore, the fact that this, what appears to have been a very successful strike, really, I think has helped to mitigate the nature of the threat coming out of Afghanistan, despite the fact that we don`t have a presence there.

REID: Yes, absolutely.

We`re looking at the Blue Room, you can see on the one end of your screen there, waiting for President Biden to walk up to that podium. Let`s recall he was diagnosed with a sort of slingback case of COVID after taking Paxlovid. So he is going to be more isolated. He`s not doing it in the traditional place you would normally see a speech like that.

But, Andrea Mitchell, I want to bring you in, because I know that you have been talking on background with the White House. What are we expecting to hear tonight? Are we going to hear a broader case for the policy in Afghanistan and the success of the policy, at least when it Zawahiri?

Or what are you expecting to hear from the president?

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I think you`re going to hear -- first of all, Joy, I think you`re going to hear details, details, what we would call a ticktock, of this operation, extraordinary details, from my understanding, of the precision, the care that was taken, the involvement of the president.

You`re going to hear about the lack of civilian deaths, about the Taliban relationship, because, recall, the Taliban promised in the Doha agreement that they would not tolerate terrorism on -- in their midst.

And this apparently was a CIA drone strike in the downtown Kabul, which could not have happened without the Taliban knowing about it. The other thing is that the Taliban is basically the Haqqani Network running that regime, and the Haqqani Network has very close connections to Pakistan.

This raises very important questions about whether this could even be done, according to a top veteran CIA official -- former CIA official with whom I spoke tonight, could not have been done without Pakistan`s knowledge. So there are implications for that, but certainly immediate implications for our relationship with the Taliban.

It justifies the U.S. not lifting those sanctions, despite the terrible effect, the economic impact, the starvation, really, of so many people in Afghanistan, but not letting the Taliban have access to those frozen assets, because they have certainly not lived up to that agreement.

It also speaks to the care and the precision that our intelligence operations can operate, as you have just been pointing out, speaking to former CIA Director John Brennan, who is joining us, of course, as an MSNBC contributor and an NBC contributor on intelligence.

REID: And here`s the president.

MITCHELL: And here`s the president.

REID: I hate to interrupt you.

I would never interrupt the great Andrea Mitchell, but here`s the president.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My fellow Americans, on Saturday, at my direction, the United States successfully concluded an airstrike 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 all the whole time. He was his number two man, his deputy at the time of the terrorist attack of 9/11. He was deeply involved in the planning of 9/11, one of the most responsible for the attacks that 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, a key role in the bombing of 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, American diplomats, and American interests. And since the United States delivered justice to bin Laden 11 years ago, 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 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.

People around the world no longer need to fear the vicious and determined 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 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 Zawahiri for years under Presidents Bush, Obama, and Trump, our intelligence community located Zawahiri earlier this year. He had moved to downtown Kabul to reunite with members of his immediate family.

After carefully considering the 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 and rigorously minimized the risk of harm 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 were 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 a year ago, I made the 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`d 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 the emir of ISIS. Last month, we took out another key ISIS leader. Now we have eliminated the emir of al Qaeda. He 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 we`ll 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, and we answered with the same principles and resolve that have shaped us for generation upon generation, to protect the innocent, defend liberty, and we keep the light of freedom burning, a beacon for the rest of the entire world, because this is the great and defining truth about our nation and our people: We do not break. We never give in. We never back down.

Last year, on September 11, I once more paid my respects to Ground Zero in New York City, at that quiet field in 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 is a powerful reminder of the sacred promise we made as a nation: We will never forget.

The memorial also bears a 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 life that was stolen on 9/11 and honor their memories. To the families who lost fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, friends and co-workers on that searing 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 am so grateful to the superb patriots who serve the United States intelligence community and counterterrorism communities. They never forget. Those dedicated women and men who tirelessly work every single day to keep our country safe and to prevent future tragedies, it is thanks to their extraordinary persistence and skill that this operation was a success. They have made us 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 serve in harm`s way.

We will never, we will never give up.

REID: President Joseph Robinette Biden making the announcement that the CIA has killed Ayman al-Zawahiri.

He is the number two or was the number two leader of al Qaeda, second only to Osama bin Laden, killed in a CIA drone strike that the president said did not kill any additional family members. No family members of Mr. Zawahiri were killed and no civilians killed as well.


President Biden -- President Biden ending that very brief set of remarks with an ode to those innocent victims lost on 9/11, a very poignant, very Joseph Biden-style ode to those victims, saying no day shall -- no day shall remove you from the memories of the living.

I`m back with Andrea Mitchell, John Brennan, Peter Beinart, Trita Parsi. Also joining us, Nayyera Haq, a former White House and State Department official in the Obama administration.

Nayyera, I`m going to go to you, because you were there on the day that President Obama made a very similar address in a very similar sort of era of conflagration in the country.

What do you make of these remarks? And what goes into sort of the planning of how, when and where to make such a really important announcement, because this an operation apparently was approved a week ago?

NAYYERA HAQ, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: And it`s an operation that we will find out the details of in the coming days, the same way we found out the details of SEAL Team Six, very closely held information.

Likely that it did require coordination, not only across U.S. agencies, but also with the government of Pakistan. We do know that Osama bin Laden was targeted inside Pakistan, where he had been for years. That was embarrassing for Pakistan to deal with at the time. We now are getting a negative statement from the Taliban, saying that this was a violation of international norms.

But, again, they were giving support and had -- had the number one leader of al Qaeda in their capital. So who helped coordinate? All those details will come out. But what we do know is that al Qaeda has lost not only its leader, but it is also losing the connectivity it had to other terrorist networks like ISIS.

The poor people of Afghanistan, Joy, I have to mention them. Not only do they have the Taliban in control right now. They have got al Qaeda and ISIS-K fighting each other. Yet, somehow, the United States managed to kill the number one leader of al Qaeda twice in a decade without ever needing ground troops there.

So it raises the question of, was the war in Afghanistan, was it necessary for 20 years if drone strikes from outside the territory are ultimately what decimated and defeated al Qaeda leaders?

REID: Absolutely.

Trita Parsi, I want to bring you in on that, because you know the president also announced that they recently also killed the emir of ISIS. These are operations that are taking place, as Nayyera was pointing out, without ground troops on the ground, without a giant invasion to make them happen.

What does that say to the region to understand that the United States can take out the leader, the intellectual leader, in addition to the functional leader, of al Qaeda in downtown Kabul? What does that say to those who are supporting and sheltering the Taliban in the region?

TRITA PARSI, QUINCY INSTITUTE FOR RESPONSIBLE STATECRAFT: Well, it`s certainly a devastating message to them, those who are hosting or those who believe that they can get away with something like this.

But I also think it`s a very strong message to the American public to the American people. We don`t need to be there in order to be able to eliminate from the battlefield, as the president said, those who are planning to attack the United States.

REID: Yes.

PARSI: And I wouldn`t limit that just to Afghanistan.

I think, when Biden gave the speech -- and I think he was absolutely right pulling out of Afghanistan -- he made the reference saying that this is the beginning of an end of an era of regime change wars. We are currently still in Syria without congressional authority. We`re still in Iraq, even though it`s quite clear that there is a very significant portion of the Iraqi public doesn`t want us there.

Much of the justification for staying there has been to counter terrorism. But this is a clear indication that we actually don`t need to be there physically, occupy countries or occupy parts of countries, in order to be able to defend the United States from terror.

REID: And thank you for making that point.

Peter Beinart, I want to bring you in on this conversation, because we`re having this in sort of the context of a new conversation about 9/11 again, people who are raising doubts, like the former president, about the origins of that attack on the United States, and sort of making friends, making nice with and taking lots of money from the Saudis, who the CIA says were involved in terms of 15 of the 19 hijackers being Saudis, and then the way we took that entire conflict and exported it to Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with it.

We`re having this also in the context of a time when the people doing a war, sort of an old-fashioned war of regime change, is Russia. And in one of the justifications that they used, that Vladimir Putin use was to say Iraq.

So what do you make of the sort of bigger-picture context of what we`re seeing happen, with the CIA being able to do what 100,000 troops on the ground could not?

PETER BEINART, CITY UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK: I think this is another piece of evidence that really an era is ending in American foreign policy, as the United States focuses on great power conflict.


Obviously, there will still be a threat from jihadi terrorism. There are now these splinter groups that exist in parts of Africa, in the Middle East. But Zawahiri played a very, very important historical role. He was the one who convinced bin Laden that they should focus on the United States.

Remember, bin Laden`s initial focus was on the regimes in the Middle East that he and Zawahiri both hated and wanted to overthrow and replace with theocratic jihadist regimes. It was Zawahiri who sold bin Laden on the idea that, in order to overthrow those local enemies, they had to go after what they called the head of the snake, the United States.

So he was really the mastermind of this whole idea which ultimately became September 11, this entire -- quote, unquote -- "war on terror" era.

Again, terrorism will remain. The jihadist terrorism will remain. But his death, I think, symbolizes the fact that the centrality that it once had in American foreign policy has now passed.

REID: Yes, indeed.

And, Andrea, let`s go back and talk a little bit more about Zawahiri`s past. I mean, this man goes all the way back to the plot to kill Anwar Sadat to punish him for making a deal with Israel. I mean, this is somebody who has -- a very affluent man, a doctor who comes from a prominent family, very much like Osama bin Laden.

What do you make of that? Because that was an era as well, right, these wealthy men who decided to dedicate their lives to going after the great Satan, the United States, and waging war upon us from places like Afghanistan.

MITCHELL: And was radicalized in an Egyptian prison, exactly what you pointed out, that he was responsible, as the president just pointed out, for the USS Cole, for the horrific bombings in 1998 that I was covering in Kenya and Tanzania, where hundreds and hundreds of people died of our two - - our two embassies,.

The USS Cole, 17 service members died. That was in 2000, October of 2000, and then, of course, the lead-up to 9/11. He was the brains. He was the ideologue.

And what was pointed out by the president and a National Security Council background briefing that we had that we could not report on until the president was speaking, his ideology and his operational ability, his inspiration for terrorists around the world was current, because they say they have current videos, some of which have yet to be released, most probably are in the pipeline as we speak, urging attacks upon Americans around the world.

The other thing that`s really notable here is the fact that the relationship with the Taliban has now been really seriously damaged, because it`s clear that he was hiding in plain sight, their responsibility for him being in a safe house in downtown Kabul.

And the other thing that we were told on this background briefing was that the president, over a series of weeks, because this first came to light, the intelligence that he might be there, was in May, in June. They started confirming it, reconfirming it. They had a red team and a blue team working on all of these details.

The president was then briefed by Jake Sullivan, Jon Finer, another top deputy on the National Security Council, Liz Sherwood-Randall, also, of course, Bill Burns, William Burns, which was who -- he and, of course, Avril Haines, the head of national intelligence, were all directly involved in this and briefing the president.

The president asked repeatedly, how can you be sure that his family will be safe, that there will be no civilian deaths?

They affirm that, according to all of their intelligence and after-action reporting, that there were no members of his family that were hit, that they had eyes on him through these unmanned drone -- the unmanned drone attack, that they saw him on the balcony when they struck him, that the president saw a model built by the intelligence agencies of the house, a model of the house, and the president asked about the structure, the windows, whether it was blast-proof, how could civilians could survive, and that the family was then extricated by the Haqqanis afterwards, and taken to another location, so that their cover-up was complicit.

REID: Wow, that is great detail. Thank you, Andrea.

And, John Brennan, I want to go back to you on this, because the CIA has been through it. For the previous four years, they had a president who did not listen to them, who did not believe them, in terms of the agency`s intel regarding Russia, regarding Vladimir Putin. He believed Putin over them.

The intelligence services have been pretty beaten up. But this is a really big triumph for the CIA. And the fact that they were able to do that, as Andrea said, without injuring even any of the family members or any civilians, and the fact that they had the intel to be able to do this in downtown Kabul, it is a pretty big deal.

Is this the future of the way that intelligence is going to work on the battlefield? And what do you make of the CIA`s ability to do this and pull this off without massive bloodshed?

BRENNAN: Well, first of all, CIA professionals disregard a lot of the political winds that blow in Washington. They know that they have a job to do particularly, on the counterterrorism front.


And so they have developed the technical and analytic capabilities that allows them to integrate intelligence from technical sources, from human sources, and to be able to have that type of overhead surveillance capability that allows them to identify individuals in these remote areas or in downtown Kabul.

And so, therefore, that intelligence collection -- and it really is so, so critically important to be able to provide a president with the confidence that he or she needs in order to authorize a strike.

And, as Andrea mentioned, it appears as though there was meticulous planning and real rigorous effort to try to prevent any civilians or even Zawahiri family members from being injured in the strike.

And so, again, I think it just shows that the CIA professionals, irrespective of what`s happening in the corridors of Washington, continue to -- their efforts to find these terrorists, try to mitigate the threats that they pose.

And it is, I think, the future. And, thankfully, we have been able to demonstrate now that we don`t need the people on the ground. I don`t want to diminish the accomplishments of the last 20 years of the U.S. military and intelligence community, in terms of what they have been doing to cripple al Qaeda.

But, again, I think President Biden has demonstrated that we can still take these very successful actions, despite the fact we don`t have people on the ground.

REID: Yes, indeed.

And I think a lot of the families of those men and women who fought in Afghanistan are glad that they are home and not having to be there.

Trita Parsi, I just want to ask you, what do you think that the papers are going to be saying in places like Pakistan and in Kabul tomorrow morning, or maybe this morning? The time difference.

PARSI: There`s going to be a lot of noise.

And, obviously, this is going to put significant strain both on the relationship of the United States with Pakistan, mindful of the Haqqani Network`s connections there, as well as the fact that he had been spending time there before, and, of course, with Taliban.

I do hope, however -- I totally understand what Andrea Mitchell said. I think it`s going to be very difficult for the administration to move sanctions right now. But I do hope that they work very hard to find a way to do so, because those sanctions, at the end of the day, are not punishing the Taliban. They`re punishing the Afghan people.

And they have been punished enough over the last few years.

REID: Yes, I think everyone agrees with that.

Andrea Mitchell, former CIA Director John Brennan, Peter Beinart, Trita Parsi, Nayyera Haq, brilliant. Thank you all very much. Really appreciate you.

We will be right back.



REID: All right, before we go tonight, after that breaking news whirlwind of international news and news out of the White House, I would like to take a moment to recognize two icons, actress Nichelle Nichols and basketball legend Bill Russell, who both passed away Sunday and whose legacies far exceed their accomplishments of the court and on the small screen.

Nichelle Nichols was best known for smashing barriers for black actresses and black nerds like myself as Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, communications officer for the starship Enterprise in the original "Star Trek" TV series in the late 1960s.

The first black actress to star in a major role on a prime-time series, Nichols did, in fact, boldly go where no one had gone before. She almost didn`t return for a second season in 1967, until civil rights icon and "Star Trek" fan Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. introduced himself at an NAACP function.


NICHELLE NICHOLS, ACTRESS: He said: "Don`t you understand that, for the first time, we are seen as we should be seen? You don`t have a black role. You have an equal role."


REID: In deciding to return, the gorgeous Ms. Nichols made history as part of the first interracial kiss on American television with William Shatner`s Captain Kirk and went on to appear in six "Star Trek" movies.

Her influence extended beyond television. She later worked with NASA, recruiting astronauts and inspiring others, including Mae Jemison, the first black woman to go into space.

At virtually the same time Nichelle Nichols was making her mark on television, her presence in itself an act of defiance, Bill Russell was solidifying his legacy on the basketball court. Drafted by the Boston Celtics in 1956, Russell won his first NBA title the following year, and didn`t stop for more than a decade.

Arguably the greatest NBA player of all time, Russell won 11 championships, all with the Celtics, including two as a player/coach, the first black head coach in a major American sports league.

But with all about winning came racist abuse from Boston fans. Russell recalled moving his family to a predominantly white Boston suburb called Reading, only to have his home vandalized and racial slurs spray-painted on the walls.

Russell was active in the civil rights movement, speaking out against school segregation and marching with Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And after Medgar Evers was assassinated, Russell ran an integrated camp at the insistence of Evers` brother, despite death threats.

He`s one of a group of prominent black athletes, along with Kareem Abdul- Jabbar, who supported Muhammad Ali when he refused to be drafted to serve in the Vietnam War, paving the way for activist athletes like Colin Kaepernick decades later.

Russell was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010 by President Obama, who said basketball was what Bill Russell did, not who he was.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Bill Russell the man is someone who stood up for the rights and dignity of all men.

And I hope that, one day, in the streets of Boston, children will look up at a statue built not only to be Bill Russell the player, but Bill Russell the man.


REID: Bill Russell and Nichelle Nichols, a giant on and off the court, and a legend on this planet and beyond, two trailblazers who changed the landscape for black Americans.

And, for that, we thank them both.

And that is tonight`s REIDOUT.