The War on Terror
(September 11, 2001 – Present)
NATO Participants: United States, United Kingdom, France, Canada, and Non-Nato Participants
Main Targets: al-Qaeda, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ISIS/Daesh), Taliban, East Turkestan Islamic Movement
The History of Modern Terrorism prior to September 11, 2001
Up to September 11, 2001
“It will not end until every terrorist group has been found, stopped, and defeated.” – George W. Bush, September 20, 2001
The War on Terror is not necessarily a war in the traditional sense. Rather, it is the name used for international military campaigns against various Islamic terrorist organizations, primarily in the Middle East. This phrase was first coined by President Ronald Reagan in response to the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing.
Origins of al-Qaeda and the Taliban
During the Soviet War in Afghanistan, fought during the Cold War, the U.S., along with its allies in the U.K., Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and China, supported the guerilla war against the Soviet Union and the Communist state of Afghanistan. The Islamist extremist regime, the Taliban, would later win the fight against the Communists. Osama bin Laden, one of these guerilla fighters, would later form al-Qaeda.
Al-Qaeda declared war on the West and Israel in 1998 and later launched its first attack on U.S. embassies. They also, prior to the 2001 attacks, attempted to bomb Los Angeles International Airport and attacked the USS Cole, killing 17 U.S. naval officers.
The Taliban enforced strict, traditionalist interpretations of Sharia law on its people. Sharia, or Islamic law, is a widely-misunderstood and contentious set of religious laws based on Islamic teachings. Extremist interpretations of this law, as imposed by the Taliban and ISIS, impose on many human rights and democracy, subjugating the people under it.
The September 11th Attacks
September 11, 2001
On September 11th, 2001, nineteen members of al-Qaeda hijacked four passenger airplanes. Passengers were told that there was a bomb aboard and they were being held as hostages. Passengers believed they would be freed once the demands were met. However, these planes were part of a suicide plot. Two of the airplanes were crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, causing both buildings to collapse. The third airplane crashed into the Pentagon in Virginia, just outside of Washington D.C. The target of the fourth plane was the White House, but the passengers and flight crew of the fourth plane attempted to retake control of the plane. The plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.
This was the first time since World War II that the United States had been attacked on its own soil. 2,977 victims and 19 hijackers died in the attacks.
Following the attacks, President George W. Bush activated 50,000 members of the National Guard and Reserve to aid in recovery and security efforts. Then, on September 20th, 2001, addressing a joint session of Congress, Bush declared a war on terrorism.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), formed during the events of WWII, invoked Article 5 for the first time in history. Article 5 allows its members to collectively react – in self-defense – against an identified enemy. On October 7th, 2001, the U.S. and their allied military forces led an attack against al-Qaeda and their allies.
Bradley County’s Response of Compassion
These attacks were meant to create a climate of fear. The people of the Ocoee Region watched along with the rest of the nation as the mass murder and chaos unfolded. It was a moment most people alive today remember. They remember stopping. They remember waiting. They remember fearing another attack.
The day after the attacks, the International Canoe Federation cancelled the 2001 Slalom World Championships intended to take place on the Ocoee River. Other events in the area were also closed due to fear and uncertainty of air travel, of spectator safety, and of the future.
Even among this fear and uncertainty, the compassion of our community rose to new heights. Hundreds donated blood the day of the attack. The Cleveland Fire Department prepared a dozen personnel that could be sent to assist if needed. Bradley County Emergency Medical Services sent two ambulances, staffed with six crew members and loaded with supplies, to help the victims. Members of the Cleveland-Bradley County Fire Departments and other emergency service organizations gathered for a memorial service on September 12th. Cleveland marked that day as a Day of Unity.
The U.S. Reaction to the Attacks
The U.S. tightened its security in major areas such as airports, government buildings, and sports venues. The Office of Homeland Security and the Homeland Security Council were created in response to the attacks. In 2003, these two entities were replaced with the Department of Homeland Security, which is still in operation today. It is responsible for safeguarding the U.S. against terrorist attacks and ensuring preparedness in the case of natural disasters and other emergencies.
The Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq
“The most important thing is for us to find Osama bin Laden. It is our number one priority and we will not rest until we find him.” – President George W. Bush, March 13, 2002
Operation Enduring Freedom
The U.S. demanded al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden be turned over or Afghanistan would face an attack from the U.S. In response, the Taliban government in Afghanistan demanded evidence for Osama bin Laden’s participation in the attacks. When the U.S. refused to provide any evidence, the Taliban refused to turn al-Qaeda over. In October of 2001, the U.S. and allies invaded Afghanistan to remove the Taliban from power. The U.S. and its allies managed to take the capital and send al-Qaeda and the Taliban into hiding. The U.S. and its allies continued to launch attacks against remnants of these groups. In 2014, a security agreement was signed that enabled both sides to claim victory. NATO will continue to occupy Afghanistan until at least 2024.
Operation Iraqi Freedom
Saddam Hussein, the leader of Iraq, invaded Kuwait in 1990 and was identified as a State sponsor of terrorism. The Gulf War had ended in a ceasefire agreement that suspended hostilities between Iraq and the U.S. However, Iraq began to gun down U.S. aircrafts in 1998 and eventually drew the ire of the U.S. in 2003. The war officially began in March 2003 with an air and ground invasion, founded upon the belief of Iraq having weapons of mass destruction and on the basis of the War on Terror. The former belief has been questioned over the years. In 2004, the Iraq Survey Group concluded that Saddam Hussein did not possess weapons of mass destruction. And this remains a contentious subject of debate to this day.
Saddam Hussein’s government was dissolved about a month after the U.S. invaded, but insurgencies erupted all over the country. The U.S. and its allies continued to fight battles against insurgents within Iraq. Saddam Hussein was captured in December 2003 and executed in 2006. This conflict lasted for nearly nine years before the last of the U.S. troops left Iraq in December of 2011.
The Wars in Syria and the Levant
“Our objective is clear: We will degrade and ultimately destroy [ISIS] through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy.” – President Barack Obama, September 11, 2014
Operation Inherent Resolve
Our most recent fight in the War on Terror is against ISIS (also called by the derogatory acronym Daesh), a split from al-Qaeda, which invaded Syria and the western provinces of Iraq. This group combined the insurgency in Iraq and the Syrian Civil War into a single conflict. ISIS is a militant group that follows an extremist version of Islam and promotes religious violence. Their primary targets are non-Muslims and Muslims who do not agree with its extremist interpretations (the majority of Muslims). Their intent is to claim religious, political, and military authority over all Muslims worldwide and establish a state of world domination. They commit human rights abuses and war crimes, including ethnic cleansing in northern Iraq. As an enemy in the new age, they use social media, “more sophisticated than that of most U.S. companies,” to recruit people to their cause.
ISIS is believed to be in operation in 18 countries across the world with a fighting force of over 30,000. The U.S. has repeatedly established itself, along with many other countries, as an enemy of this extremist militant group and seeks to eradicate it through a continuing number of military measures.
“In the chaos of that moment, they were selfless in their efforts to take care of one another, and they acted with unquestionable courage.” – Battery Commander Major Michael Abrams at the memorial service.
On July 16, 2015, Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez attacked two military recruitment and reserve centers in Chattanooga, TN. Five people died in this attack: four U.S. Marines and one U.S. Navy sailor. The victims were shot at the U.S. Navy Reserve Center where they had attempted to distract the assailant and returned fire. They were assisting people who were trying to escape. A Marine recruiter and a police sergeant were also wounded by the gunman. The gunman was not a part of ISIS, but was self-radicalized, having turned to violent extremism, hateful ideology, and drug and alcohol abuse.
The brave victims of this tragedy were Sergeant Carson A. Holmquist, Logistics Specialist Second Class Randall Smith, Gunnery Sergeant Thomas J. Sullivan, Lance Corporal Squire K. “Skip” Wells, and Staff Sergeant David A. Wyatt. Sergeant Demonte Cheeley and Dennis Pedigo Jr. were both injured in the attack.
The Continuing War
“The more you speak about Islam and against all Muslims, the more terrorists we create. If your intention is to stop terrorism, do not try to blame the whole population of Muslims for it because it cannot stop terrorism.” – Malala Yousafzi, December 2015
“In the 20thCentury, the United States defeated Fascism, Nazism, and Communism. Now, a different threat challenges our world: Radical Islamic Terrorism.” – President Donald Trump, August 2016.
The Founder of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, was found and killed by U.S. forces on May 2, 2011, but the War on Terror still continues today. Like the wars before it, the War on Terror is a contentious point amongst people today and weighs heavily on the minds of the American public. The U.S. has seen tightened securities, soldiers sent overseas, and a number of measures taken to combat terrorism with varying degrees of success.