It was twenty years ago this Saturday that the world watched in horror as hijacked jetliners slammed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in rural Pennsylvania. Nearly 3,000 victims lost their lives on the day of September 11, 2001 – the deadliest terrorist attack to ever occur on U.S. soil.
The attackers were Islamic terrorists from Saudi Arabia and several other Arab nations financed by Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorist organization. The 19 terrorists boarded four flights bound for California, chosen because the planes were loaded with fuel for the long transcontinental journey. The terrorists commandeered the four planes, transforming ordinary commuter jets into guided missiles.
As millions of people watched planes hit first the north tower and then the south tower of the World Trade Center in New York City, another plane circled over downtown Washington, D.C. and slammed into the west side of the Pentagon military headquarters.
The horror in New York took a catastrophic turn for the worse when the south tower and then the north tower of the World Trade Center collapsed in a massive cloud of dust and smoke. The structural steel of the skyscraper, built to withstand winds in excess of 200 miles per hour and a large conventional fire, could not withstand the tremendous heat generated by the burning jet fuel. Close to 3,000 people died in the World Trade Center and its vicinity, including a staggering 343 firefighters and paramedics, 23 New York City police officers and 37 Port Authority police officers who were struggling to complete an evacuation of the buildings and save the office workers trapped on higher floors.
Passengers on board a fourth plane had learned of the events in New York and Washington via cell phone calls to the ground while the plane had been delayed in taking off. A group of passengers and flight attendants fought the four hijackers and are suspected to have attacked the cockpit with a fire extinguisher, crashing the plane into a rural field in western Pennsylvania. All 45 people aboard were killed. Its intended target is not known, but may have been the White House or the U.S. Capital.
The unfolding events revealed that America was under attack. To keep him out of harm’s way, U.S. President George W. Bush was hopscotched across the country on Air Force One, landing in Washington, D.C., the evening of the attacks. President Bush addressed the nation from the Oval Office in a speech that laid out a key doctrine of his administration’s future foreign policy: “We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.”
Operation Enduring Freedom, the American-led international effort to oust the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and destroy Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network based there, began on October 7. It initiated The War in Afghanistan that took place from 2001 to 2021 and is the longest war in United States history. Osama bin Laden was killed by Navy Seal Team Six and all their support groups on May 2, 2011.