More than two decades since the Sept. 11 attacks, the U.S. has enjoyed a number of successes in the war on terror, but it must learn from its mistakes as it continues to work to protect the homeland, experts told Fox News Digital .
“In retrospect, it is difficult to see any success in the U.S. effort, given how we have essentially given up the fight and how jihadism has grown exponentially worldwide,” said Bill Roggio, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and founding editor of “The Long War Journal.”
After the simultaneous terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, the United States launched the so-called “War on Terror.” A fourth plane, United Flight 93, crashed in Pennsylvania when passengers fought back and tried to gain control of the plane to prevent it from reaching Washington, DC
The war on terror was focused on Central Asia, with a 20-year campaign in Afghanistan as well as operations against groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS in Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and Syria.
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Joel Rubin, the assistant secretary of state for House Affairs during the Obama administration and an Energy and State Department official during the Bush administration, praised the multinational coalition the U.S. had built to pursue and partner with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan Countries and governments in the Middle East.
“Remember, al-Qaeda carried out bombings in India and Indonesia,” he explained. “In Europe they were everywhere. And it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that they would be crushed, so the war on terror was an incredible initiative.” “
“Look, I think we have incredibly won the argument about how dangerous organizations like al-Qaeda or ISIS are and how terrible they are not only to us but to people in their own countries,” Rubin continued . “The Bush administration deserves a lot of credit for that, as did the Obama administration afterward, because these organizations looked like they were taking over countries and had massive popular support.”
The US prevented another major foreign terrorist attack on American soil, eliminating not only Usama bin Laden – the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks – but also his successor Ayman al-Zawahri and the “so-called” ISIS caliphate in 2019, according to James Anderson, assistant secretary of defense for policy during the Trump administration.
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The US declared victory over ISIS in 2019 after liberating the last ISIS stronghold and ending the caliphate in Syria. However, French Defense Minister Florence Parly warned at the time that ISIS had not been defeated, but was merely “hiding.”
Roggio noted that improved coordination between intelligence and security organizations in the United States is a key factor in America’s continued security as well as the improved ability to attack individual terrorists, but stressed that this approach is “not a winning strategy.”
Despite all of these successes, the U.S. has made several missteps, these experts say, leading to a chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 and even current fears that Syria’s civil war could provide an opportunity for an ISIS resurgence.
Anderson accused then-President Obama of downplaying the threat of ISIS in his earlier days, including a remark in 2014 that ISIS was the “JV team” before the group established a significant presence in several Middle Eastern countries . He also said the focus and “resource-intensive nature” of the campaign “diverted attention from the rise of China” until the Trump administration made Beijing “its No. 1 priority.”
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“The U.S. should have sought a smaller military footprint in Afghanistan, one robust enough to deny terrorists a haven but free from the burdens of nation-building,” he said, adding that “the merry-go-round of leadership responsibilities and troop deployments.” proved counterproductive and undermined efforts to build continuity and much-needed expertise in Afghanistan.”
Rubin highlighted the significant loss of life and destruction that accompanied the campaign, with military solutions “often leaving a much more devastating mark than people were willing to admit at the time.”
“Drones could locate and hit key leaders, but they also cause serious, significant harm and damage to civilians that would undermine the moral authority we sought to maintain,” Rubin said, citing the “loss of moral high ground and loss .” of human life…significant.”
Rubin also spoke at length about how the Iraq invasion distracted the entire campaign, diverting focus and resources from countries like Afghanistan that had a clear and direct target in the counterterrorism campaign, arguing that the American people ” “manipulated” to support the invasion campaign due to “legitimate panic” about another significant terrorist attack.
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“I think the misuse of these emotions was a serious betrayal of popular sentiment to fight al-Qaeda and the actual terrorist organizations that attacked us on September 11,” Rubin said.
Despite these conflicted feelings about the course of the War on Terror, Roggio and Rubin both noted the significant impact that the 9/11 attack had on them personally: Roggio began “The Long War Journal,” excerpted from his personal blog on al -Affairs arose Qaeda’s activities led to an invitation in 2005 to join the US Marines on missions in Anbar Province, Iraq.
Roggio’s brother-in-law worked at the World Trade Center and his sister worked nearby, but both were late for work that morning and he didn’t hear from them for long periods of the day.
Rubin was giving a presentation to the Department of Energy at a Sheraton hotel near the Pentagon on the morning of the attacks when he heard the plane crash and saw the aftermath of the attack on the military installation. He described the sheer panic and confusion that gripped DC and the impression it left on many who witnessed the attacks firsthand.
“It was a very personal moment for me. “Serving in the U.S. government, serving in the Bush administration, and seeing terrorists manipulating our kindness and using it to attack us and kill thousands of innocent people was just mind-blowing,” Rubin said. He would then seek a position in the State Department to be directly involved in leading the war on terror.
“I think it is our sacred duty to always remember the people who were killed and injured here that day because it was real and painful and we should never forget what happened to them.”