- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 2, 2002

"Let's roll." By now, Todd Beamer's two-word battle cry is as much a part of our national lexicon as Franklin Roosevelt's "date of infamy," John F. Kennedy's "bear any burden," or Ronald Reagan's "tear down this wall." Mr. Beamer's words, captured by a cell phone as he led Flight 93's passenger revolt on September 11, have inspired and redefined a nation. They have been quoted by presidents and prime ministers, reproduced on bumper stickers, plastered on the side of buildings, emblazoned on fighter-jets and stenciled on bombs.

But as new FBI transcripts remind us, there were other words spoken that morning on Flight 93 words that define our enemy and foreshadow what lies ahead.

Released on March 26, the transcripts support the widely held contention that an unknown number of passengers decided to mount a counterattack and retake the plane as it hurtled toward the nation's capital at 570 mph. With the plane's crew already dead or incapacitated, the passengers marched up the aisle and stormed the cockpit, subduing or killing at least one terrorist along the way. Watching Flight 93's volunteer army from the cockpit, one of the hijackers choked out his own two-word sentence: "They're coming." Those would be his last. Moments later, the plane slammed into the hard soil of western Pennsylvania, 200 miles away from its target somewhere in Washington.

The hijacker, like Todd Beamer, would never know the meaning his words would carry beyond the doomed airliner.

Just four weeks after that awful September morning, the Pentagon assembled and deployed a task force of warplanes, aircraft carriers, Special Forces troops and Marines halfway around the world. Like some 21st-century posse, the Special Forces rode into battle on horseback, the Marines by helicopter. The warplanes came from the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean, the former Soviet Union and the continental United States. In a matter of five weeks, this improbable task force erased what it took the Taliban and al Qaeda five years to build.

Simultaneously, U.S. forces swooped in to rescue the war-weary innocents of Afghanistan from starvation. In the final three months of 2001 alone, the United States provided $187 million in relief to the friendless Afghans, air-dropped 2.4 million meal rations and helped deliver another 127,000 tons of food and water over land. Today, U.S. aid is feeding and clothing 7.5 million Afghans.

America's war on terror, while fearsome in its effects, has been limited in scope. But we know Afghanistan is just the beginning. As Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld puts it, "The only way to deal with these terrorist threats is to go after them where they exist." Capturing the spirit of Flight 93, Vice President Dick Cheney adds that the struggle against terrorist regimes and groups "can only end with their complete and permanent destruction." Simply put, it no longer makes sense to allow terror to fester inside a sick society and metastasize across borders; to shame the shameless with State Department reports; to simply complain about weapons being shipped from one thug to another; to allow mass murderers to acquire weapons of mass destruction. We must pre-empt their attacks, intercept their weapons, tear down the vast infrastructure of terror, and remove the men who built it and hide behind it.

To its credit, the Bush administration recognizes that the old strategies of containment and deterrence don't apply to the war on terror. Containment presupposes coexistence, which is not an option today because al Qaeda and its patrons do not recognize our legitimacy and after September 11, Americans no longer recognize theirs.

We catch a glimpse of this transformation in the transcripts of Flight 93. As the terrorist peered through the cockpit door and contemplated what he had unleashed, he didn't laugh or smirk, or rant or pray. Instead, he conveyed a desperate warning to his fellow murderers: "They're coming," he gasped. And perhaps for the first time since his terrorist cell planned and launched its attack on America, he felt fear the kind of fear that swept through Flight 93 when the hijackers took control, the kind of fear that gripped New York and Washington and an entire nation on September 11.

I suspect the Taliban felt it as Kandahar, Kabul and Kunduz fell last winter. I suspect al Qaeda's foot soldiers felt it when they were hauled off to Guantanamo Bay. And I suspect al Qaeda's leadership is feeling it now.

America's enemies should ponder the final words of that terrorist. They're coming to the caves of Afghanistan, to the festering underside of southern Pakistan, to the Philippine jungles, to the deserts of Yemen and Somalia, to the remote mountains of Georgia, to the dark corners of Europe and North America, to the familiar sands and skies of Iraq.

The heroes of Flight 93 were only the first wave. They're still coming.


Alan W. Dowd is a free-lance writer specializing in national security and foreign policy affairs.


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