SAN DIEGO. On 09/11/2001 at 8:46 a.m., America transformed when al-Qaeda terrorists used U.S. commercial jets as deadly guided missiles. The first airliner plowed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan carrying 10,000 gallons of jet fuel. A second airliner hit the South tower at 9:03 a.m. and we watched in horror as fire and smoke billowed upwards.
The western face of the Pentagon was their third target as their airliner missile hit at 9:37 the same morning. At 10:03 a fourth airliner, aimed at the U.S. Capitol or White House crashed in a southern Pennsylvania field. Forced down by heroic passengers who knew they were under attack.
Flight attendant Betty Ong sounded the alarm aboard Flight American Airlines Flight 11.
Nearly 3,000 died at impact and 6000 were injured. Including, over 400 New York police and firefighters who rushed to the scene. Joined by emergency medical personnel, military, emergency workers and civilians.
How do we put that kind of pain into perspective? And teach what we need to know to prevent it from happening again?
Pay attention to the warnings.
In a 1996 Department of State Top Secret report (now unclassified) government officials had Osama bin Laden on their radar as he searched for a safe haven. Afghanistan was the ideal place to run his businesses and financial networks. A land of training at that time for hundreds of “Arab mujahidin”. Key extremist leaders congregated in remote deserts and austere mountains.
In, 1996, bin Laden issued a fatwā, a “Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places.” It first appeared in the London-based Arabic paper Al-Quds Al-Arabi.
Yet, according to a 9/11 Commission Executive Summary, “until 1997, the U.S intelligence community viewed Laden as a financier of terrorism, not a terrorist leader.”
That limited view was soon blown apart.
“In August 1998, bin Laden’s group, Al Qaeda, carried out near-simultaneous truck bomb attacks on U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The attacks killed 224, including 12 Americans and wounded thousands more,” says the 9/11 Commission Executive Summary.
Disrupt terrorist infrastructure.
Bin Laden built, right under our noses, a dynamic and lethal organization. A force to fear. He rallied new money and recruits proclaiming success with each bloody assault. Civilian lives were mercilessly expendable in bin Laden’s war. Where was the red flag on the growing infrastructure of al Qaeda’s terror? More from the 9/11 Commission Executive Summary,
More al-Qaeda plots and attacks, including the USS Cole bombing, started telling its story. A tale of death this time to 17 American sailors, nearly sending the ship into the deep.
So 9/11 was “a shock, but not a surprise”, according to the 911 Commission. As 19 young Arabs got through a security checkpoint to execute Americans at the behest of their leader. Some had been in the U.S. for a while, mixing in with the population. The Hijackers trained as pilots at U.S. flight schools.
On 20 September 2001, during a televised address to a joint session of Congress, George Bush said,
“Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.”
Deter terrorist designs.
Al Qaeda was sheltered by the Taliban, who grew to a deadly dragon, still breathing fire across Afghanistan. The era of insurgency posed dangerous threats to U.S. security. We committed to destroy their plans before they hatched.
Title 22 of the United States Code, Section 2656f (the “Act”), requires the Department of State to provide to Congress a full and complete annual report on terrorism for those countries and groups meeting the criteria of the Act.
The terrorism report states,
“In 2019, the United States and our partners made major strides to defeat and degrade international terrorist organizations.”
Call a snake a snake and unrelentingly chase it.
To Obama’s credit – he authorized SEAL Team Six take-down of bin Laden in his Pakistan lair, May 2, 2011 – after leading ten years of terror worldwide. Biden (Vice President) was reported saying “Mr. President, my suggestion is, don’t go.” A new kind of terror stepped up to fill what a weakened al Qaeda left behind.
Working with the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, the United States destroyed the so-called “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria. ISIS’ numerous fighters reduced to small pockets of criminal gangs hiding in caves. The evil executioners boasted their brutality and caused thousands to flee at the sight of the black flag. Creating magnitude refugee crises across the globe.
Take terrorist leaders down and out.
The U.S. effectively launched a military operation that killed ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, October 2019.
In 2019, the U.S. and its partners imposed new sanctions on Tehran and its proxies. This, to apply maximum pressure to Iran, the world’s worst sponsor of terror. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), including its Qods Force, is now designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) by the U.S. and other countries.
At the direction of the President, in January 2020, the U.S. military took decisive defensive action to protect U.S. personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force. The strike aimed at deterring future Iranian attacks.
Increase capabilities to track, act, and protect against terrorism.
Prior to the 9/11 attack – government agencies operated in silos. Information shared only within the agency. As systems were in the house, not integrated with other systems.
The Department of Homeland Security was established in 2002, combining 22 different federal departments and agencies into a unified, integrated Cabinet agency. DHS states,
The Department of Homeland Security has a vital mission: to secure the nation from the many threats we face. This requires the dedication of more than 240,000 employees in jobs that range from aviation and border security to emergency response, from cyber-security analyst to chemical facility inspector. Our duties are wide-ranging, and our goal is clear – keeping America safe.
Continue to be the forces to fear.
The emergence of insurgent warfare brought a whole new set of challenges to the U.S. military. Tactics to defeat insurgent terror are inducted into grueling training. While we take our kids to soccer and baseball, some 20 yr-old in uniform is hunting down terror in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, or Africa. Trying to innovate, adapt, and outwit a fierce thinking enemy to prevent its spread.
These young warriors train for quick response to crises. In small task force units. Integrated with air operations across a wide battle space. Special Forces in all branches hone specialized skills to fight unconventional warfare. While we count steps at home to stay fit – they calculate each step on a sea of explosives to fight terror.
Outsmart the masters of the IED.
Troops clear compound after compound, as we clear ways for our dreams to grow. It’s a crucible they go through to circumvent bomb threats, fight through ambushes. Doctors, nurses, corpsmen set the bar to save limbs, repair arteries and blood vessels, stop profuse bleeding. You see the Fallen’s crosses on high mountains – the brave who prevent another 9/11.
Ships, planes, and technology to keep American safe.
Navy carriers, destroyers, amphibious assault ships, and littorals project our power. Helicopters and aircraft including the F-35 help strengthen our might. Laser precision strikes mitigate collateral damage.
The defense industry sharpens our spear with the latest technology, weaponry, cyber security. We share with our allies, the unstoppable innovation that can only grow in a free and safe nation.
We’re battle savvy for the next surprise.
Out-think terrorist enemies we must. Train up our forces to imagine what they might do next. The proof is before us in tragic clarity they are resourceful. Their boldness fueled by a willingness to die to destroy others. Ask anyone who has faced them and it can be “hell on earth”. For me, I feel safer knowing warriors like ours watch our backs.
We train constantly in the mountains and deserts, in the air. and on the seas. Remembering the fallen as we fight terrorists.
We spend a lot of money on defense. The United States remains the world’s largest defense spender in 2019, with its $732 billion representing 38 percent of global military spending, SIPRI has reported.
The shock of 9/11 must keep us alert.
When we see the video of those hijacked airliners hitting their targets, it’s beyond gut-wrenching. Our pain countered by the patriot spirit that lifts our souls when we hear the stories of heroes. People from all walks of life that rushed to rescue those trapped in falling glass and steel or pick up human remains scattered on a Pennsylvania field.
While terror hovers outside of this land of amazing Americans, President Trump seeks peace. He wants troops home and also wants the United States safe. Recognition recently knocked on his White House door as the announcement for a nomination for not one, but two Nobel peace prizes reached the news. One for normalizing relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates…and one for brokering a historic peace deal between Serbia and breakaway republic Kosovo.
Peace from terror – is it attainable? Not without a daily watch of them watching us.
Featured Image: NEW YORK, SEPT. 11, 2001. Firefighters work beneath the destroyed mullions, the vertical struts which once faced the soaring outer walls of the World Trade Center towers, after a terrorist attack on the twin towers of lower Manhattan. As workers cleared some of the rubble, new crews of firefighters and rescue workers charged into the devastation with shovels, pickaxes and flashlights to look for bodies or survivors. AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, Licensed