It was 20 years ago today – a long time but not long enough to forget the horrors that occurred on September 11, 2001. Every one of us who lived through those shocks will remember them forever.
The day started as an especially beautiful one, pleasantly cool and hardly a cloud in the sky, but that quickly changed. News stations began reporting that a plane had smashed into the World Trade Center. With so much open-air space, how could this happen?
The idea that a suicide bomber would intentionally crash a plane filled with passengers as part of a plot to take down an entire country never occurred to anyone. Why would it? All of us were in for a rude awakening and just moments later it came.
At 8:46 a.m., American Airlines Flight 11 from Logan International Airport in Boston went off course and crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Thick black smoke began belching out of the building, almost as if the tower was desperately crying out for help. It never arrived. Just a few minutes later, at 9:03, United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower.
News agencies dropped everything to cover the events unfolding in lower Manhattan. A third hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon, starting a raging fire and shattering five floors on that side of the building.
Then a fourth plane crashed, this one outside of Pittsburgh; all of the 37 passengers and seven crew members were killed. A report that was subsequently issued by the 9/11 Commission said that the flight had been hijacked and the passengers died as heroes trying to regain control; the intended target was said to have been either the Capitol building or the White House.
Meanwhile, there were rumors of an attack on the State Department and others of several other hijackings. In just over an hour, the world had been turned upside down. The terrorist attacks had killed nearly 3,000 Americans and injured more than 6,000. Countless millions of people in America and abroad were shocked, horrified, and furious.
Then-President George W. Bush addressed the nation. “Today our nation saw evil, the very worst of human nature,” he said. “And we responded with the best of America – with the daring of our rescue workers, with the caring for strangers and neighbors who came to give blood and help in any way they could.”
Three days later, the President spoke about a frum Jew who performed an amazing kindness. That act cost him his life, but it created an incredible kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d’s name).
Abraham “Avremel” Zelmanowitz was a computer programmer at Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield, which had offices on the 27th floor of Tower One of the World Trade Center. One of his best friends was Ed Beyea, a Christian co-worker who was also a computer programmer.
After the plane hit the tower, Zelmanowitz could easily have escaped. However, Beyea couldn’t leave because he was a quadriplegic – wheelchair-bound – and the elevators in the building had stopped working. Zelmanowitz refused to leave his friend. Tragically, both of them perished when the tower collapsed.
“We have seen our national character in eloquent acts of sacrifice,” Bush said, making reference to this incident when he spoke at a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance Service on September 14. “Inside the World Trade Center, one man, who could have saved himself, stayed until the end at the side of his quadriplegic friend.”
In addition to all the blood that was shed and the intense emotional pain, the attacks also had terrible financial consequences. Markets around the world, already reeling from the relentless dot com crash that began a year and a half before, plummeted sharply, and erased billions more from stock values. The attacks also resulted in approximately $40 billion in insurance losses, placing it among the costliest losses ever.
In the first week of trading after the attacks, the S&P fell by more than 14%. Stocks of airlines and insurance companies were especially hard hit. On the other hand, shares of some defense and related companies rallied sharply, as did gold and oil.
Bush’s remarks expressed the intense emotions Americans (and many others) were feeling; it offered them much-needed reassurance and rallied the nation. He also spoke about the need to confront the threat of terrorism, defeat it, and do whatever was necessary now to make life safer for our children and grandchildren.
A 20-Year War Begins
Bush did a lot more than just talk. US Special Forces were activated and operating in Afghanistan within hours after the attacks. Then, on October 7, the US and many of its allies – more than 40 countries in all – launched a full-scale war to topple the Taliban. Among the immediate objectives: Deny al-Qaeda a safe harbor for its terrorists, and a base from which it could launch additional attacks.
For many years this policy was very successful – not perfect, but very effective. Al-Qaeda and other terrorists did make attacks, but none came even close to the magnitude of that of 9/11. The US had learned many lessons. It was fighting in a country that many said was impossible to conquer, yet winning the war against the bad guys.
Pres. Nixon once remarked that Americans get nervous when they can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. If so, they were uncharacteristically patient regarding Afghanistan.
This war became the longest in American history, lasting nearly 20 years to the day. America lost 2,461 US service members and approximately 20,300 more were wounded in action.
As America was hurrying its exit, it suffered still more casualties. According to The Wall Street Journal, 13 American troops were killed on August 26 by a suicide bomber at the Kabul airport; dozens of Afghans also were killed in that attack. Separately, a second bomb at a nearby hotel injured 18 US service people.
In response to these acts, the US Treasury froze approximately $9 billion of Afghanistan’s money to keep the Taliban from accessing it. However, the Taliban has another $2 billion that it could use to further promote its drug trade or to finance more terrorism.
Meanwhile, the Taliban has become a power to be reckoned with. The US made such a hasty exit that it left behind an estimated $85-$93 billion in military equipment. This stockpile includes virtually every kind of weapon imaginable – many of them very sophisticated – and can easily be sold on the black market.
Among those weapons are (their numbers rounded off):
359,000 assault rifles
42,000 pick-up trucks and SUVs
155 mine-proof vessels
Dozens of state-of-the-art Blackhawk and other helicopters
Dozens of very sophisticated aircraft.
The stash also includes countless rounds of ammunition, artillery, and rocket-propelled grenades. The Taliban is now in charge of the $800 billion US embassy in Afghanistan. And it also controls one of the most advanced air force bases in the world – one that, given its location, was also of tremendous strategic importance.
As this article is being written, an estimated 100-200 Americans remain in Afghanistan; there also are an estimated 113,000 Afghans and others who, at great personal risk, worked with America against the Taliban. The nightmare scenario is that they may be held hostage, imprisoned, or even tortured for helping America; diplomats are working hard to prevent this from happening.
Nevertheless, the situation remains worrisome. A former CIA analyst was very disturbed by all the advanced military hardware that fell into the hands of terrorists, and by America’s hasty exit from the region. He told Fox News that “Going forward we are at great risk. Afghanistan represents more of a clear and present danger to our country and our allies now than ever before.”
Republican Congressman Darrell Issa said something very perplexing. Issa said that the US provided the Taliban with the names of US and Afghan allies to evacuate, essentially putting them in harm’s way.
US allies in Europe also criticized the way the Biden administration exited from Afghanistan because it put their nationals at risk and changed the strategic equation in the region to their disadvantage.
Allies in the Middle East also were shocked. According to the Atlantic Council, the Saudis and the Russians signed an agreement to “explore ways to strengthen military and defense cooperation” between the two countries. Not very long ago, the idea of the Saudis signing a defense agreement with anyone but the US – and certainly with the Russians – was unthinkable. If the Saudis felt compelled to change long-standing policies, it’s very likely that its neighbors are thinking along the same lines.
The media has not yet focused on the implications America’s exit from Afghanistan may have on Israel’s safety. However, on a very simplistic level, it would seem that any deal that is good for the Taliban, ISIS, and al-Qaeda cannot be good for Israel.
Pat Buchanan, a long-time columnist and author who served as an assistant and Special Consultant to Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Reagan, was blunt in his assessment of this fiasco. “Biden’s diplomats may be negotiating with the Taliban to prevent the war crime of using US citizens left behind as hostages, but we are not going to be able to save all of our friends and allies who cast their lot with us and fought alongside us... This generation is about to learn what it means to lose a war.”
Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was even more pessimistic. Noting that it would be impossible to restore America’s lost credibility, Kissinger said, “No dramatic strategic move is available...to offset this self-inflicted setback.”
America’s scaled-down commitment in the war against terrorism and its possible re-appraisal of support for some traditional allies raises a variety of questions about its future plans. For example, the US has some 900 troops in Syria who control the oil reserves in that country and help protect the Syrian Kurds – has the time come to withdraw them, too? And what about the several thousand American troops still in Iraq? US allies in the Middle East and elsewhere are certainly wondering how America will answer these questions and planning for every possible scenario.
The Aftermath Of Terror
It was impossible to forget the events of 9/11 in the weeks and months that followed. The wounds were too raw to heal, and new ones were being inflicted repeatedly as the toll of dead and wounded kept rising. And the rubble where the WTC towers once stood was smoldering for months, despite the streams of water dousing it.
One rescue worker said that during the entire search, not even one piece of office furniture was found (this couldn’t be verified); if the heat was so intense that it may have vaporized all of that, what had it done to human remains?
Actually, some body parts were found, but too often they could be identified only by advanced DNA tests. For example, it took nearly a year until Avremel Zelmanowitz’s remains could be positively identified; they were interred in Har HaZeisim in Yerushalayim alongside his parents.
There were other issues that surfaced as people tried to get their lives back to normal – certainly on a much smaller scale, but that nevertheless created emotional pain and stress.
Someone was taking the subway to work when the train stopped abruptly between stations and the lights went out. Passengers thought another attack had begun and became hysterical. In midtown, during lunch hour, a car backfired. What would normally be a non-event sent passersby scurrying in all directions for their lives. One day a lady stood outside the entrance to a shul just before Minchah; she was holding a sign that asked everyone to daven with extra kavanah because of a report that another attack was imminent.
It took years until most of us were able to put the pain and fear that 9/11 evoked behind us. Finally it happened. Then 2021 rolled around and undid so much of that.
Hundreds of the most violent and vicious people in the world were released from prisons; one needn’t be a genius to guess what they were planning. Meanwhile, as you read these words, terrorists of different groups are celebrating as they are consolidating their positions, joining forces, and assessing how they will use all the incredible weapons and funds now at their disposal.
On August 31, 90 retired generals and admirals signed a letter demanding that US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley “resign immediately over the botched Afghanistan withdrawal.” Many Americans believe Biden should resign, too.
Following are excerpts from their letter: “The consequences of this disaster are enormous and will reverberate for decades.” … “The loss of billions of dollars in advanced military equipment and supplies falling into the hands of our enemies is catastrophic.” … “The damage to the reputation of the United States is indescribable.” … “Now our adversaries are emboldened to move against America, and terrorists from around the world are able to pass freely into our country through our open border with Mexico.”
What they didn’t mention is how these developments might affect Iran’s efforts to get the bomb; in all likelihood, it too will be encouraged by America’s diminished role in world events. China and Russia also may feel comfortable adopting more aggressive policies.
Somehow, the Taliban managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and the danger level for all of us is skyrocketing. Now it’s the good guys who are on the run.
After going through so much fear for so long, could anyone be blamed for throwing up their hands in despair and throwing in the towel?
They cannot be blamed. But they also should not give up. The fact is that it’s very difficult to understand the events that we see happening in the world – including those in Afghanistan.
The entire Jewish community in ancient Persia (Iran) was nearly annihilated. They were terrified because of Haman’s plans, and they didn’t understand the Master Plan that was at work. At the moment of their greatest danger, they were rescued with a great miracle. Tish’ah B’Av is now the saddest day in the Jewish calendar. But in the future, when we will have a clearer understanding, it too will be celebrated as a holiday. There are numerous verses in T’hilim and elsewhere that express the concept that great sadness can be changed into great happiness.
As we begin the New Year, let’s hope that the worrisome developments coming out of Afghanistan and other areas quickly fall into this category. This is certainly possible and hopefully we will merit seeing miracles in the very near future. Still, there is never a shortage of things to daven for, and this year in particular the list is a lengthy one. May our prayers be accepted this year and always.
Sources: apnews.com; ballotpedia.org; atlanticcouncil.org; theguardian.com; thetexan.news; wikipedia.org; zerohedge.com. You Tube: Former Agent: Going Forward We Are At Great Risk