We the People: What Once Called the War on Terror Has Changed, But It Continues
Each week, The Spokesman-Review examines a question from the naturalization test that immigrants must pass to become US citizens.
The question of the day : Name a US military conflict after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
The world came to a standstill in the hours following 9/11 as the United States relied on what is still the deadliest terrorist attack in human history. At least 2,977 people died when terrorists flew planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Washington and crashed a fourth plane.
In the wake of such vast destruction, it didn’t take long for calls to action to ring out from coast to coast. From government officials to average citizens, Americans have sought a settling of scores, and fast.
Yet what unfolded in the weeks following 9/11 laid the foundation for a decades-long battle against extremism that continues today.
“Our war on terror begins with al-Qaeda, but it does not end there,” President George W. Bush said in a speech to Congress on September 20, 2001. “It will not end until all world-class terrorist groups will not have been found, stopped and defeated.
Over the next two decades, Bush’s words rang true: the war on terror did not end with the fight against al-Qaeda. The pursuit to end terrorism quickly spread. Nearly a month after 9/11, Bush announced that the United States had begun military action in Afghanistan, striking al-Qaeda terrorist training camps and Taliban military installations.
Within two years of 9/11, the United States invaded Iraq to overthrow its leader, Saddam Hussein.
“What started as the invasion of Afghanistan has spread around the world,” said Stephanie Savell, a Brown University professor and co-director of the university’s Costs of War Project, which attempts to calculate the true financial and human costs of post-9/11 wars.
Counter-terrorism actions have spread to neighboring countries in the Middle East, eventually reaching corners of Africa, Asia and Europe. As the conflicts spread, the economic costs, the list of enemy combatants and the number of civilian casualties also increased.
In August, the Biden administration declared an end to “eternal wars” as the last US troops existed in Afghanistan, marking the end of a 20-year mission. But Bush’s goal of eliminating terrorism has not been achieved, and the war on terror has no clear end in sight, Savell said.
New name, similar fight
Over the past two decades, the conflict has gone by many names: ‘war on terror’, ‘countering violent extremism’ and ‘the eternal war’.
After the pullout from Afghanistan, the Biden administration frequently alluded to its “capabilities over the horizon,” referring to the Pentagon’s ability to carry out actions such as drone strikes outside Afghanistan’s borders. a target country. But Biden’s terminology is simply the latest name in the same conflict, Savell said.
While Savell partially attributed the name change to rebranding between different presidential administrations, she also pointed to the unpopularity of the dispute among the public.
While initial actions in Afghanistan were generally supported by the public, the more the conflict snowballed and the economic and human costs grew, the more unpopular it became, Savell said.
But the fighting was not limited to Afghanistan and Iraq. According to reports from the Costs of War Project, the wars waged by the United States after 9/11 have spread across the world to more than 85 countries.
As the military sought to capture terrorists associated with the September 11 attacks, the mission also became less clear. Places that were considered “virtually no security threat” have become places that could potentially harbor militant groups in the eyes of the Bush administration, Savell said.
“There was like a cohort of politicians within the Bush administration who believed in the doctrine of what they called preventive war,” Savell said. “The idea is to get to a place before a military violence issue arises and prevent it from happening.”
But as US troops moved into these new areas, the increase in violence only fueled the recruitment of different groups, she said.
Different presidential administrations have worked to bring the individual wars in Afghanistan to Iraq under control. But the larger war on terror has remained ongoing despite the United States having seen some of its goals achieved, such as the 2011 American killing of Osama bin Laden and the death of Islamic State leader Abu Ibrahim al Hashimi al Qurayshi last month.