A terrorist attack in New York City killed 2,977 innocent people on 9/11/2001 (Credit: clermontcountyohio.gov)

The longest war in American history has ended. On August 31, 2021, a US aircraft carrying the remaining US officials in Afghanistan lifted off from Kabul, ending the nation's almost 20-year presence in the country. The chain of events leading to the long, drawn-out war began early on September 11, 2001.

Nineteen terrorists split into four groups, each with a trained pilot, hijacked four commercial flights: United Flight 93 from New Jersey, American Flight 77 from Washington, DC, and United Flight 175 and American Flight 11 from Boston. The airplanes were flying cross country, either to Los Angeles or San Francisco. They, therefore, had enough fuel to cause the maximum possible damage.

The Twin towers collapsed within hours after the airplanes crashed into them (Credit: NOAA/Public Domain)

The passengers aboard the airplanes knew they had been hijacked shortly after takeoff. However, the rest of the world remained unaware of the situation until 8:46 AM (EST). That's when American Flight 11 was seen heading towards New York City's tallest buildings — the World Trade Center's (WTC) Twin Towers. Before anyone could react, the aircraft crashed into the North Tower, creating a massive impact hole from the 93rd to the 99th floor.

Experts initially thought the crash was caused by a pilot error or an airplane malfunction. However, that theory changed when United Flight 175 rammed into the South Tower at 9:03 AM EST. About half an hour later, at 9:37 AM EST, American Flight 77 hit the Pentagon in Virginia. Shortly after, United Flight 93 crash-landed in an empty field outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania. By then, it was evident that America had experienced a well-planned terrorist attack.

A 9/11 memorial and museum was built in the area where the Twin towers once stood (Credit: 911memorial.org)

The aftermath of the attacks was heartbreaking, especially for those inside the majestic Twin Towers. The intense fires, caused by the fully-fueled airplanes, weakened the steel support trusses that attached each of the 110 floors to the building's exterior. This, together with the aircraft's initial impact, caused both towers to crumble into a giant heap of cement and steel in less than two hours. While the quick-thinking firefighters and police officers had evacuated a majority of the estimated 18,000 people in the WTC complex, they themselves were not as lucky. Most did not make it out alive. The Pentagon building withstood the crash, but the aircraft's initial impact killed 184 people.

The senseless act of violence, planned by Islamic extremist organization Al-Qaeda, killed 2,977 innocent people. The death toll would have been even higher if United Flight 93's crew and passengers had not taken control of the airplane. They managed to divert the aircraft — believed to be heading to the US Capitol in Washington, DC — to an empty field in Shanksville. Though none of the 40 survived the crash landing, their courage saved the country from an even bigger catastrophe.

Soon after, the US and its allies declared a "Global War on Terror" in Afghanistan. They wanted to retaliate against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban — the fundamentalist Islamic militia — who provided them safe haven. The two-decades-long conflict spanned four US presidencies, resulted in tens of thousands of deaths, and cost about $2 trillion. Unfortunately, it did little to change the state of affairs.

The 20-year war in Afghanistan was America's longest foreign conflict (Credit: Statista/CC-By-SA-2.0)

While Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden was assassinated in 2011, the terrorist group remains active. It has spawned several offshoots, including the deadly ISIS. The United Nations estimates that 5 million Afghanis have been displaced by the war since 2012. To make matters worse, the Taliban returned to power shortly after the departure of the allied forces. In just ten days, from August 6 - 15, 2021, they took over the provincial capitals Kandahar, Mazar-i-Sharif, and, finally, Kabul. As the Taliban militants gained ground, the country's president, Ashraf Ghani, fled to the UAE, and the US Embassy rapidly evacuated thousands of citizens from the country.

President Joe Biden has drawn criticism for the unfortunate turn of events. However, the US leader defended his decision, saying, “I was the fourth president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan—two Republicans, two Democrats. I would not, and will not, pass this war on to a fifth.”

September 11, 2001, was a tragedy of epic proportions — one that will never be forgotten. However, it has also made Americans more resilient and determined to continue living without fear. On September 11 — or Patriot Day, as it is now called — take a few minutes to remember the thousands of innocent lives lost on that fateful day and the brave soldiers who sacrificed their lives to try to stop global terrorism.


Resources: History.com, Wikipeida.com, www.aljazeera.com