The US will mark Saturday the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and for the first time since the War on Terror began, not be engaged in hostilities in Afghanistan.
US President Joe Biden completed the pullout from the Central Asian country, ending a nearly 20-year occupation that began with George W. Bush and was passed on to three successive presidents as the costs of the war — both financial and physical — continued to mount.
The US invaded Afghanistan after its Taliban rulers refused to hand over the 9/11 mastermind and al-Qaeda ringleader Osama bin Laden in the wake of the terror attacks that claimed nearly 3,000 lives.
The US military-led offensive left the Taliban a shambles as they retreated to mountainous areas and neighboring Pakistan only to re-emerge and wage an asymmetrical campaign that became a full-blown military offensive against the internationally recognized government in Kabul.
The government and its 300,000-strong military collapsed last month with the Taliban now back in control of the country as they pledge to never again let Afghanistan become a safe haven for international terrorism. Skepticism remains.
Bin Laden, who publicly claimed responsibility for the Sept. 11 attacks, was killed during a 2011 special operations raid on a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan that was less than a mile from Islamabad’s premier military academy.
In defending his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, Biden has maintained the US accomplished its post-9/11 goal of eliminating bin Laden, and was without a clear purpose in remaining in Afghanistan.
“After 20 years of war in Afghanistan, I refused to send another generation of America’s sons and daughters to fight a war that should have ended long ago,” Biden said on Aug. 31.
Commemoration ceremonies will take place nationwide, including at Ground Zero in New York City where the World Trade Center fell after al-Qaeda hijackers rammed airliners into the towers, killing many of those inside as the skyscrapers collapsed in plumes of toxic debris that spread through Manhattan.
While roughly 3,000 people died in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, thousands of more individuals who inhaled the dust-engulfed air died of, and are continuing to suffer from, resulting diseases, including cancer and emphysema.
Additional memorial ceremonies are planned at the Pentagon where another hijacked airplane crashed, and in Pennsylvania where an airplane crashed into an empty field after passengers attempted to wrest control of the aircraft from the al-Qaeda hijackers. It was likely headed for either the Capitol or the White House.
Biden will attend the ceremonies at Ground Zero, the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania where Flight 93 crashed and where a memorial has been erected in honor of those who fought back against the hijackers.