Updated: Oct 15, 2021
September, 11 2001 — a day that shook the United States to its very core. In the years since the tragedy, the U.S. has dramatically altered its foreign policy, security measures, and military protocol so that the threat of terrorism could be taken seriously. However, the country’s recent withdrawal from Afghanistan and the subsequent Taliban take-over of the Middle-Eastern nation showed us that we still face major challenges in counter-terrorism. We may have come far, but we have a long way to go, both militarily and diplomatically, especially when handling terrorism.
The 9/11 attacks occurred because Osama bin Laden, leader of terrorist group Al-Qaeda, viewed the U.S. as a “rather weak” country. Bin Laden saw this as an opportunity to show the world how strong Al-Qaeda was and did so by instigating the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City, New York, the Pentagon in Washington D.C, and a failed attack that crashed in rural Pennsylvania after passengers on the flight attempted to stop it from reaching its destination.
President George Bush retaliated and began what is today known as the “War on Terror”. Thousands of U.S. soldiers and troops were sent into the Middle East, Afghanistan, and Central Asia. In 2006, under President Barack Obama, U.S. SEALS infiltrated bin Laden’s hideout and killed him, greatly diminishing Al-Qaeda’s power.
But that wasn’t the end of the War on Terror. The U.S. military’s presence in the region brought a semblance of stability, something that the people living in these conflict-ridden places had never before experienced. The military was also prompted to stay due to the multitude of other terrorist groups, such as ISIS and the Taliban, who posed a potential threat to the safety of the U.S.
However, the US’s presence wasn’t necessarily perfect. Many people, both at home and abroad, criticized the deployment of the military in such a divided region and many U.S. soldiers faced absolutely brutal conditions. Additionally, the human and monetary costs were extreme — between 2001 and 2019, nearly 7,000 US soldiers and nearly 535,000 non-hostiles were killed as a direct result of these wars and as of 2020, the U.S. is still paying off 2 trillion dollars in debt due to the wars waged 20 years ago. The legacy of the 9/11 attacks remains nuanced and there are cases to be made on whether the War on Terror was necessary. However, now that our withdrawal from Afghanistan is all but complete, it is time to reflect on these past 20 years and the actions that this nation has taken in response to terrorism. We need to look back and evaluate ourselves honestly if we are going to make productive changes moving forward. We owe at least this to all the civilians, soldiers, and public servants that we lost, the ones that we honor every year on 9/11. And, it is our job to make sure that they would feel honored too.