Eighteen years ago today, America experienced the worst terrorist attack ever on its home soil.
The death toll from the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks came to 2,977 — 2,606 at the World Trade Center, 125 at the Pentagon, and the rest on the four hijacked airplanes used in the attacks.
Some 6,000 additional people were injured, and rescue workers who were at the World Trade Center site continue to face medical issues resulting from their exposure to toxic materials from the collapsed towers.
Days later, on Sept. 14, President George W. Bush delivered remarks from atop the rubble of the World Trade Center that would define his presidency and have to a large degree defined the world ever since.
“I want you all to know that America today, America today is on bended knee, in prayer for the people whose lives were lost here, for the workers who work here, for the families who mourn,” the president said through a bullhorn. “The nation stands with the good people of New York City and New Jersey and Connecticut as we mourn the loss of thousands of our citizens.”
One rescue worker shouted out that people couldn’t hear what President Bush was saying.
“I can hear you! I can hear you!” Bush said. “The rest of the world hears you! And the people — and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!”
So began the longest war in American history.
On Oct. 7, 2001, the U.S. and its allies began bombing Taliban and al-Qaida targets in Afghanistan. And while al-Qaida leader and 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden is dead, and most of his top lieutenants are dead or captured, the U.S. remains in Afghanistan, caught in the middle of a civil war between Taliban insurgents and the Afghani government, backed by the U.S. and its NATO allies.
There are young men and women born after the Sept. 11 attacks who are just now becoming old enough to join the armed forces and go off to fight in a war that began before they were born.
It’s a war that is still claiming U.S. casualties.
President Donald Trump says he would like to reduce the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan, but so far he has been no more successful at that than his predecessors were. A proposed withdrawal agreement — opposed by the Afghani government — would lower troop numbers to the level of when Trump took office, leaving 8,600 troops in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan seems like unfinished business that somehow remains always unfinished. In the middle of rooting out al-Qaida in Afghanistan, President Bush’s administration turned to Iraq in 2003, justifying the invasion with claims about weapons of mass destruction that proved false.
The world is still dealing with the fallout from that blunder, which created a power vacuum, led to more terrorism throughout the Middle East and North Africa, and ultimately created the refugee crisis that has not only destabilized the Middle East but has spawned a backlash in Europe.
By abandoning a nuclear deal that was working, the Trump administration has put its focus on Iran, creating a crisis where one didn’t exist.
Yet still, Afghanistan, the country that has thwarted invaders from Alexander the Great to the former Soviet Union, remains unfinished business.
Today, we will remember those who died 18 years ago — and the sacrifices of U.S. service members ever since. We will do this as a new generation gets set to join the forever war that has been raging since before they were born.