As we prepare to mark the 20th anniversary of the horrific terrorist attacks on our homeland on Sept. 11, 2001, we take stock of the past two decades—of all that we have won and of all that we have lost. We have seen Americans come together in unity in our darkest hour, we have foiled many such attacks since, and we have watched our country shine as a beacon of freedom and hope like never before.
But it has not come without tremendous, heartbreaking cost. As the nation stood to defend its liberty, its values, and its way of life, hundreds of thousands of our brothers and sisters risked their lives in that defense, and thousands paid the ultimate price for it. More than 3,600 soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines from at least 32 countries, including nearly 2,500 Americans, were killed serving in Afghanistan to make America and the world safer.
These heroes kept terror at bay and kept America free. It’s a debt we can never repay. So on this 20th anniversary of 9/11, may we do everything we can to honor what they have done.
Our world today has grown no less dangerous. Indeed, the threats we face multiply by the year. Evil does not sleep, and its forces do not rest.
Most immediately, we face a resurgent threat from transnational terrorism—a threat that has found new life after President Joe Biden’s ill-advised and poorly executed withdrawal from Afghanistan. Sadly, his actions have opened the door for a more dangerous future.
On this 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, the Taliban will have more territorial control of Afghanistan than it did on September 11, 2001. The Taliban will also be better armed than it was in 2001, with billions of dollars in U.S. military equipment and weaponry that the president had the military leave behind during his bungled evacuation.
And worse yet, now the Taliban will have hundreds of American hostages that it didn’t have in 2001. Hostages President Biden abandoned. Hostages the Taliban will use to barter for more money and weapons to use to commit more terrorist attacks.
New territory, new weaponry, hostages, and the fact that the Taliban was able to release thousands of fellow terrorists from American prisons in Afghanistan as they overtook the country will make Afghanistan a new hub for terrorism and more of a threat than it was on Sept. 11, 2001.
There will also be a major recruitment drive for Jihadist groups, as nothing attracts new followers like the success the Taliban was just handed by the most powerful nation in the world. Terrorists are now welcome in Afghanistan again, and terrorist groups will be flocking there. A few days ago, Osama bin Laden’s former head of security, Amin al Haq, returned to Afghanistan after being gone for the past 20 years.
Now that President Biden gave up our counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan, he says we can instead strike terrorists using our “over the horizon” capabilities. Unfortunately, that doesn’t match reality. It’s difficult to carry out airstrikes or drone strikes when you don’t have the intelligence and assets on the ground telling the military what to hit.
Moreover, because of the botched pullout, not only have America’s adversaries been emboldened, but America’s friends and allies are seriously questioning American resolve for future conflicts that we may find ourselves in. In the past two weeks, our Heritage Foundation experts have spoken to nearly 20 diplomats, including at least four ambassadors, and all have expressed the same concern about this administration and the stunning lack of American leadership under this president.
The alienation of our allies couldn’t come at a worse time, as America also faces rising threats from an increasingly adversarial Chinese Communist Party, from Vladimir Putin’s Russia, and from a nuclear-armed Iran that has for years pledged “Death to America.”
However, the course that Joe Biden has set for America is not inevitable. On Sept. 11, 2001, the American people showed that we are resilient, determined, and strong.
At this moment in our nation’s history—not just on this day, but every day going forward—we must resolve to stand unified against the forces that would seek to destroy us, and we must say to the world that the United States may bend, but we will never, ever break.
• Kay C. James is president of The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).