With these words spoken from the Oval Office on September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush addressed the nation eighteen years ago today following what has come to be known as the deadliest terrorist attack in American history.
The war in Afghanistan that followed–and still continues–remains the longest war in American history.
On Saturday evening, just days before the eighteenth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, President Trump announced via Twitter that secret peace talks with Taliban leaders and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani were set to take place at Camp David.
“Unbeknownst to almost everyone, the major Taliban leaders and, separately, the President of Afghanistan, were going to secretly meet with me at Camp David on Sunday. They were coming to the United States tonight,” the president tweeted.
However, though the peace talks were scheduled to take place on Sunday, the president canceled the meeting, attributing the cancelation to a recent Taliban attack near the U.S. Embassy and NATO Headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan that killed twelve people, including American soldier Elis Angel Barreto Ortiz.
While discussions between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, and other government officials have been underway with the Taliban for approximately a year, negotiations prior to this announcement were at a stand-still.
Additionally, previous meetings neglected to include the government of Afghanistan, leading to frustration from Afghanistan officials as instability and division in the country continue to prevail.
In coming to an agreement, the administration hoped to negotiate the beginning of the withdrawal of American troops in the region in exchange for a commitment from the Taliban not to provide sanctuary to terrorist affiliates, like those linked to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.
Along with this, by including Afghan leadership in the negotiations, the administration hoped to facilitate cooperation and peace between the two parties.
It has been reported that President Trump faced opposition from former National Security Advisor John Bolton and Vice President Mike Pence, who, among other things, voiced concerns over the symbolism and message peace talks so close to the anniversary of September 11 could send to military members and other public servants.
The president, however, has denied these claims.
In light of these scheduled talks and the eighteenth anniversary, The Texan spoke with two Texas veterans to find out how they view the war in Afghanistan, eighteen years after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
When speaking with a senior staffer on Capitol Hill who served in Afghanistan but wished to remain anonymous, the source expressed frustration at the timing of the peace talks, describing it as “short-sighted,” “insensitive,” and “offensive to a whole lot of people.”
He elaborated by saying that the issue for him is about more than just the unfortunate timing of these meetings.
According to the staffer, the Taliban is a government faction as well as a terrorist organization that has shown no commitment to upholding their end of an agreement should one be reached.
By allowing the Taliban to negotiate peace talks on U.S. soil, he believes the administration is giving legitimacy to the organization that they haven’t earned or demonstrated they will truly uphold.
During the time that the Taliban ruled in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, the regime was known for enforcing strict religious laws and their brutal subjugation of women.
“I’m frustrated by the fact that we’re going to give the Taliban a vote in American lives. They haven’t earned that. They haven’t demonstrated any willingness to decrease violent activity.”
Regarding how he has seen the war in Afghanistan evolve over the last eighteen years, the senior staffer told The Texan the biggest change has been the objective and mission of what the U.S. is aiming to achieve in the region.
Following the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, there was a “clear objective to destroy Al Qaeda and the Taliban that was harboring them in Afghanistan.”
These sentiments echo those of President Bush who said in his address to the nation, “We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.”
However, after deploying under the Obama Administration in 2010, the staffer said he saw the objective change from one of patriotism following the events of 9/11 to one of nation-building, diplomatic advisory, and peace-keeping.
While the staffer indicated that he does not believe it to be the United States’ job to police the region, he also acknowledged the many risks that accompany a quick withdrawal in an “unwinnable territory.”
Retired Army lieutenant colonel and Texas A&M professor, Dr. Danny Davis, spoke with The Texan about what he sees eighteen years later. Davis is an expert in terrorism and counterterrorism studies.
When asked about what the future holds in regard to Afghanistan, Dr. Davis emphasized the importance of U.S. influence in the region and providing assistance to Afghan forces as needed.
“I think the only thing we can do is keep a small force over there whose able to go out and strike targets when we need to,” Davis said.
Davis said a presence is necessary as long as the fighting in Afghanistan continues and if the region is ever to truly become a democratic nation in the future.
Regarding the peace talks scheduled so close to the anniversary of 9/11, Davis acknowledged the poor timing, but also emphasized the importance of peace talks between nation-states and organizations for foreign policy objectives to truly succeed.
“The timing was probably not good, but what’s important is having the talks,” Davis said regarding the matter.
While Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed that there are no peace talks underway at the moment, President Trump stated during his presidential campaign his intentions of ending the war in Afghanistan.
Since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan in 2001, approximately 2,400 Americans have been killed and 14,000 U.S. troops remain in the region today.
As the nation unites on this somber day in American history to remember those who were killed by radical Islamic terrorists, it is important to also honor the brave Americans who have served and continue to serve to protect the United States from harm.
In the words of President George W. Bush spoken eighteen years ago, “None of us will ever forget this day, yet we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world. Thank you. Goodnight. And God bless America.”
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Sarah McConnell is a reporter for The Texan. Previously, she worked as a Cyber Security Consultant after serving as a Pathways Intern at the Department of Homeland Security – Citizenship and Immigration Services. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Texas A&M as well as her Master of Public Service and Administration degree from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M. In her free time, Sarah is an avid runner, jazz enthusiast, and lover of all things culinary.