Daniel R. DePetris
Security, Middle East
How did the war in Afghanistan, which started with a noble purpose, transition from the “good war” to the unending war?
For the vast majority of Americans, this past Saturday was just another day on the calendar. College football fans streamed into stadiums across the nation to watch their favorite teams, friends met up for a drink or two, and the overworked and strung out among us caught an extra few hours of sleep.
October 7, however, wasn’t an ordinary Saturday. Rather, it marked the sixteenth anniversary since the United States began dropping the first bombs on Taliban installations and Al Qaeda bases throughout Afghanistan—a military campaign that President George W. Bush labeled as the opening phase in a war that would require patience, perseverance and support from the American people. The war objectives back then were simple, straightforward and easy to understand: the United States was attacked by nineteen terrorists who turned four commercial airplanes into ballistic missiles, and it was time for some payback. The group that planned and executed the worst terrorist attack in modern history and the Taliban regime that hosted that group needed to be taught a lesson. Bush said that afternoon that U.S. military action in the months ahead would be “designed to clear the way for sustained, comprehensive and relentless operations to drive them out and bring them to justice.”
Back in October 2001, the country was still mourning and had barely passed the first stage of grief. Those who had no idea whether or not their loved ones made it out of the Twin Towers before they collapsed continued to hope that relatives and friends would wind up at their front doors tomorrow or the next day. You didn’t have to be a fully-formed adult to feel the depth of the country’s wounds; even as a seventh grader, I could tell that my classmates, their parents and even random guy shopping for food at the supermarket were all on edge. Indeed, the entire country was in a state of fear. While New Yorkers were continuing to search for bodies at Ground Zero, many Americans from coast to coast were almost operating on the assumption that another attack on the scale of 9/11 was in the offing.