The saddest 9/11 anniversary of all
As I sat down to write my reflection and opinion on the twentieth anniversary of the worst foreign attack on American soil since the War of 1812, I was overwhelmed with sadness – and no little anger. It was both a patriotic and personal sadness – and anger.
My readers know that I lost a Marine grandson in Afghanistan – one of the 2,400 American service men and women who lost their lives on the sands of Afghanistan. My sadness was obviously deepened that day – and was embossed in my heart and brain forever. But so was my anger. Both increased with the so-called end of America’s war in Afghanistan.
President Biden may have pulled out American troops – leading to one of the deadliest days for American military personnel and Afghan civilians – but the war against the Taliban, al Qaeda, ISIS and others continues. And more Americans and innocent civilians will die – some already dying as the Taliban impose their brutal rule.
The war against terrorism did not begin on 9/11. Terrorists have spent decades attacking Americans and the western world. They killed six young Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Germany. They took 259 lives on Pan Am Flight 103 that blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland. They killed 17 sailors on the USS Cole on October 12, 2000 – and injured 37 more. Terrorists murdered 241 American military personnel – and 58 French – in an attack on military barracks in Lebanon. They had even previously bombed the New York Trade Towers in 1993. And this is only a partial list of the thousands of deadly terrorist attacks over the years across the world – including in America.
My own personal journey from 9/11 began on that sunny September morning. My wife, Jill, and l were gathered with my young assistant, Long Tran, ready to begin another normal Tuesday workday in the office complex adjacent to our 42nd floor apartment overlooking downtown Chicago. As was our custom, we had the morning news on the television. With the first report of a plane striking the north Trade Tower, we were transfixed.
It was not a small plane. No sooner had we grasped that it was a commercial airliner, a second airliner hit the south Tower. At that point, I had no doubt that it was a terrorist attack – and most likely an attack by the Osama bin Laden Muslim terrorist group, al Qaeda. I had been following them for years.
We rushed to retrieve our 8-year-old son, Alex, who was in school. He was near the old Sears Tower, and there was speculation that the iconic building might be an additional target. We brought him home just before the first Tower collapsed.
At one point, I opined that the twin Towers could totally collapse. Not topple from the top, but completely collapse. I had that understanding from being on the public relations team during the construction of the Sears Tower – Chicago’s and the world’s tallest building at the time. That is how I learned about structural weaknesses and the phenomenon of “pancaking” – the very forces that turned the New York Towers to rubble.
Unfortunately, my prescience of the moment proved to be tragically accurate. Once the burning floors weakened, the weight of the upper floors descended like a gigantic hammer. The horror of the attack multiplied – and we knew that thousands of people would lose their lives. Then came that attack on the Pentagon and the downed plane in Pennsylvania. It was impossible to hold back tears.
That night was eerie. It was the silence of the city. There were no noises on the streets below – which were virtually deserted. And there were no lights from the multiple airplanes that were an iconic part of the night view from our windows. All air traffic across the nation had been grounded.
We did see one light traveling toward downtown from the west. We could not help but wonder and worry that this was yet another terrorist hijacked plane. It was, however, an Airforce plane providing security for the City. But at the time, it was scary.
Determined to get those who perpetrated this horrendous act, the Afghan war began. President George W. Bush promised that the full force of the American military – and the intelligence agencies – would be put to the task. At the time, it was beyond imagination that the battle would drag on for 20 years – and result in a humiliating defeat.
For the next ten years, I wrote occasionally about the so-called “War Against Terrorism.” That is when the frustration began. Why was the world’s indisputably most powerful military dragging on with a ground war in Afghanistan? We had already driven the Taliban out of power and into the mountains lining the Afghan/Pakistani border. We were still in pursuit of Osama Bin Laden.
On May 2, 2011, President Obama announced that in a surprise raid into Pakistan, a Navy Seals team had killed the number one terrorist leader in the world. We had created and protected a semi-corrupt leadership in Kabul – and American losses were not considered extreme by warfare standards. Still, there were no clear victories. And the war dragged on again.
Less than eight weeks later – on June 25, 2011 – the war hit home. As my wife and I were driving to my brother’s home for a family party, we got the call from my daughter, Yvette. Our grandson, Troy, had been killed. I could not help but believe that had America been fought to win anytime in those first ten years, our grandson would still be alive.
Since that time, I have written that I did not want my grandson to have died in vain. Yes, he was an American hero. That cannot be taken away, but I did not want his death to have served no larger purpose. He was there to fight the Taliban and al Qaeda … to wipe them out … and to make sure they never rose to power again. That was his mission.
As more years rolled by, my sadness, frustration, and anger increased little by little each day. We were not winning that damned War – and other Troys were dying. But at least the Taliban were not winning. Afghanistan was a changed nation. The people – especially the women – were enjoying freedoms unimaginable under the Taliban’s brutal rule. We were told over and over that it was only a matter of time until America would achieve a final victory over terrorism from Afghanistan. But the War dragged on.
When President Trump talked about pulling American forces out of Afghanistan without any obvious victory, my anger intensified. That would mean Troy would have died in vain – twenty years of lives and money down the drain.
At the time, I wrote in opposition to Trump’s exit plans. But at least Trump seemed to condition America’s departure on a peaceful coalition government with the Taliban. He twice postponed the departure dates because of the Taliban’s lack of cooperation. That was my last slim thread of hope.
Trump warned the Taliban that if they moved against the government in Kabul, he would reverse course and strike them with the full might of the American military. Maybe he would. Maybe he would not. But for a moment, it seemed that the Taliban might finally provoke a meaningful and decisive response from America. I hoped that would be the case. Maybe we would win the War at last.
President Biden, like Trump, had long expressed a desire to withdraw from America’s longest war. The difference is that Trump had conditions. Biden had virtually none. He would precipitously remove the troops and – with malice aforethought – surrender Afghanistan to the Taliban and all the terrorists they sponsored and shielded. By any measure, it was an unconditional surrender.
Biden could not even get the Taliban to extend the departure date to get remaining Americans and Afghan friends out of harm’s way. He would leave behind billions of dollars of American weaponry – turning the ragtag Taliban into a modern fighting force. Biden would completely abandon our critical intelligence operation.
Of America’s failures in wars since World War II, America suffered the worst defeat, humiliation, and threats to future security here and abroad with the Biden surrender in Afghanistan. Even worse, he lied his way out of the War. The Afghan government, American allies, the nation’s military leaders, and intelligence services all had advised against a sudden removal at this time. Biden lied.
In blowing the whistle when the game was not over, Biden single-handedly lost Afghanistan, empowered terrorists across the globe, weakened the respect of our allies, and greatly empowered our adversaries – especially China, Russia, and Iran. No nation on earth can now rely on or fear America’s swift sword of justice. The damage Biden has done will go on for years and maybe decades.
Whether Biden betrayed his country, and his Oath of Office, can be argued, but the fact that his decision to remove the forces unconditionally is virtually the most unique policy incompetence in American history. NOTHING has been gained – and much has been and will be lost.
Ambassador Karl Eikenberry – who served as Commander, Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan until he was named ambassador to Afghanistan by President Obama – put it very succinctly in his response to the Biden surrender. He said, “the war was not worth it.”
Biden knew that Afghanistan would fall to the enemy. In letting that happen, he literally betrayed the Afghan people, his own nation – and disrespected the deaths of thousands of American warriors and Gold Star Families – and specifically my grandson – who died in a war that “was not worth it”.
Biden may have surrendered to end America’s longest war, but he did not end my sadness and anger. That will be part of my memory to the day I die – and an infamous part of the Biden legacy as long as history remembers.
As is often the case when I reflect on all this, I close this commentary fighting back tears.
So, there ‘tis.