The September 11, 2001 Terror Attacks

The World Trade Center on 9/11
Getty Images

On the morning of September 11, 2001, Islamic extremists organized and trained by the Saudi-based jihadist group al-Qaeda hijacked four American commercial jet airliners and used them as flying bombs to carry out suicide terrorist attacks against the United States.

American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into Tower One of the World Trade Center at 8:50 AM. United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into Tower Two of the World Trade Center at 9:04 AM.

As the world watched, Tower Two collapsed to the ground at about 10:00 AM. This unimaginable scene was duplicated at 10:30 AM when Tower One fell. 

At 9:37 AM, a third plane, American Airlines Flight 77, was flown into the west side of the Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia. The fourth plane, United Airlines Flight 93, initially being flown toward an unknown target in Washington, D.C., crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania at 10:03 AM, as passengers fought with the hijackers.

Later confirmed as acting under the leadership of Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden, the terrorists were believed to be attempting to retaliate for America’s defense of Israel and continued military operations in the Middle East since the 1990 Persian Gulf War

The 9/11 terrorist attacks resulted in the deaths of nearly 3,000 men, women, and children and the injuries of more than 6,000 others. The attacks triggered major ongoing U.S. combat initiatives against terrorist groups in Iraq and Afghanistan and largely defined the presidency of George W. Bush.

America’s Military Response to the 9/11 Terror Attacks

No event since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor propelled the nation into World War II had the American people been brought together by a shared resolved to defeat a common enemy.

At 9 PM on the evening of the attacks, President George W. Bush spoke to the American people from the Oval Office of the White House, declaring, “Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America.

These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.” Foreshadowing America’s impending military response, he declared, “We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.”

On October 7, 2001, less than a month after the 9/11 attacks, the United States, supported by a multinational coalition, launched Operation Enduring Freedom in an effort to overthrow the oppressive Taliban regime in Afghanistan and destroy Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda terrorist network.

By the end of December 2001, U.S and coalition forces had virtually eradicated the Taliban in Afghanistan. However, a new Taliban insurgency in neighboring Pakistan resulted in the continuation of the war.

On March 19, 2003, President Bush ordered U.S. troops into Iraq on a mission to overthrow Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, believed by the White House to be developing and stockpiling weapons of mass destruction while harboring Al Qaeda terrorists in his county.

Following the overthrow and imprisonment of Hussein, President Bush would face criticism after a search by United Nations inspectors found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Some argued that the Iraq War had unnecessarily diverted resources from the war in Afghanistan.

Though Osama bin Laden remained at large for over a decade, the mastermind of the 9/11 terror attack was finally killed while hiding out in an Abbottabad, Pakistan building by an elite team of U.S. Navy Seals on May 2, 2011. With the demise of bin Laden, President Barack Obama announced the beginning of large-scale troop withdrawals from Afghanistan in June 2011.

As Trump Takes Over, War Goes On

Today, 16 years and three presidential administrations after the 9/11 terror attacks, the war continues. While its official combat role in Afghanistan ended in December 2014, the United States still had nearly 8,500 troops stationed there when President Donald Trump took over as Commander in Chief in January 2017.

In August 2017, President Trump authorized the Pentagon to increase the troop levels in Afghanistan by several thousand and announced a change in policy regarding the release of future troop level numbers in the region.

“We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities," Trump said. "Conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide our strategy from now on,” he said. “America's enemies must never know our plans or believe they can wait us out.”

Reports at the time indicated that top US military generals had advised Trump that a “few thousand” additional troops would help the U.S. make progress in eliminating the insurgent Taliban and other ISIS fighters in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon stated at the time that the additional troops would be conducting counterterrorism missions and training Afghanistan’s own military forces. 

Updated by Robert Longley