When 19 Muslim hijackers flew planes full of American passengers into the Pentagon and into New York’s twin towers, Americans wondered who hated them so much. Some thought perhaps that American support for Israel was the cause of the Muslim resentment.
In response to the attack, then president George W. Bush ordered an invasion of Afghanistan. It turns out that this was exactly what the Muslim hijackers wanted him to do. In a book titled “Why We Lost – A General’s Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars“, Daniel Bolger tells the story. In Afghanistan, Osama Bin Laden, a wealthy Saudi jihadi leader, had a revelation that he attributed to Allah.
The Communist Russian superpower had failed, pulled out, and then imploded, all thanks to holy warrioirs in Afghanistan. If al-Qaeda (Bin Laden’s group) could lure the United States to the same killing ground, that might well cripple the far enemy, run them out of the entire region, and clear the way for the wider caliphate. Bin Laden saw a winning formula.
I should say at this point that Bin Laden resented American troops in Saudi Arabia, even though they were there to protect the country. He also didn’t like Israel, but from the book, the desire to create an Islamic caliphate was a primary driver.
Anyway, Bin Laden realized he needed a spectacular attack on the U.S. to draw it into war. It turned out that attacking the U.S. was relatively easy, getting the U.S. to respond was hard.
The first attack, on August 7, 1998, used exploding trucks at two U.S. embassies – one in Nairobi, Kenya, and the other in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. A dozen Americans died in Kenya (among the 212 people in the vicinity who were killed). The timing had been chosen to coincide with the eighth anniversary of the arrival of U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia to push the Iraqi invaders out of Kuwait.
The U.S. eventually did retaliate, by firing 66 cruise missiles into two terrorist training camps. Another 13 missiles hit a suspected nerve-gas site in Sudan. But the strikes did little damage.
“Frustrated by the limited U.S. response, searching for a way to attract a large troop deployment into the Afghan rat’s nest, bin Laden tried something bigger.” That became the attack on a U.S. warship which was loading fuel in Yemen.
The U.S. did not retaliate at all!
This was really frustrating to Bin Laden.
Hitting two embassies hadn’t done it. Almost sinking a U.S. Navy destroyer failed to work. At an acrimonious White House meeting, frustrated with the unwillingness of the military to get entangled in a manhunt in landlocked Afghanistan, State Department counterterrorism coordinator Michael Sheehan pointed at those in uniform and said: “Does Al Qaeda have to hit the Pentagon to get [your] attention?” The sarcasm got a few chuckles around the table. On the far side of the world, Osama bin Laden wasn’t laughing. He knew what he had to do next.
Fast forward to now (9/19/2019) as I write this blog – after 18 years of war, the leaders of the U.S. are trying to get us out of Afghanistan, which inevitably will lead to to the Taliban (which had hosted Bin Laden) taking over again, and Iran has used low flying drones and low flying missiles to blow up Saudi oilfields! The Americans don’t want to be drawn into another war in the Middle East, especially after the endless war in Afghanistan, and the negative consequences of the long war in Iraq. On top of that, I’ve heard people arguing that 15 of the hijackers on 9/11 were Saudis, and that Arabian Wahabis preaches a very anti-infidel version of Islam. What do we need to protect them for?
Did Bin Laden’s strategy work?