Political Focus: The aftermath of September 11th

Melissa Deatsch, Political Columnist

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Sunday marked the 15th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks. Ceremonies took place in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania to honor the lives lost on one of the most tragic days in American history.  

In the years since, the United States has faced additional terror threats that are at the heart of this election season. Americans want a commander in chief who will keep them safe, and arguments have been sparked regarding which candidate is better suited to accomplish that.  

Understanding the terror threats our country faces today begins with an understanding of what has taken place in the 15 years since the attacks of September 11th. Political Focus will dive deeper into those threats and the candidates’ positions in future articles, but this week, will focus on the political aftermath of September 11, 2001.  

What happened after Sept. 11, 2001?

Just four days after the attack, the United States Congress granted then-President George W. Bush the authority to use the Armed Forces against anyone involved in the September 11 attacks.  

The U.S. initially set its sights on the leaders of al-Qaeda, the terrorist group known to be behind the attack; its leader, Osama bin Laden; and its land base, Afghanistan. After the Taliban, the group in power in Afghanistan, denied requests to hand over bin Laden, President Bush took action.  

October 7, 2001, marked the beginning of the invasion of Afghanistan and air strikes against al-Qaeda and Taliban members, putting into action Operation Endure Freedom.

With the support of its allies, the U.S. successfully removed the Taliban from power in two months. The following 13 years of Operation Endure Freedom were highlighted with the Afghanistan’s first democratic election, retaliation attacks by Taliban forces, and the killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. Special Forces in 2011.

How’d we get to where we are now?

Aside from what happened in Afghanistan, the decision to invade Iraq has played a major role in getting us to where we are today. 

In February 2003, U.S. officials began making the case that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was a threat and needed to be ousted. The U.S. later invaded Iraq, and on December 13, 2003, Hussein was captured. Thereafter, he was tried by the interim Iraqi government and ultimately sentenced to death.  

What we know now, according to a professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science Fawaz Gerges to CNN, is that the overthrowing of the Hussein regime resulted in thousands of skilled military officers being put out of work and, in response, joining what is now the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.  

ISIS, a terror group that spawned from al-Qaeda, then grew even more immensely when the civil war began in Syria in 2011. ISIS has now become the biggest terror threat the U.S. faces today during this election cycle.  

How serious is the threat of ISIS?

Reports have been released recently that ISIS is losing territory in the Middle East. However, many counterterrorism experts aren’t put at ease by this information.

ISIS has become incredibly dangerous not only because of the group’s military capabilities, but their global influence through the use of the internet. Their online presence allows them to recruit Western fighters who can carry out their attacks.

Even when ISIS isn’t directly involved in the planning and carrying out of terrorist attacks in Western countries, their global presence has influenced “lone wolf attackers” who are acting in the name of ISIS, but not directly with ISIS.  

An example of the danger of these lone wolf attackers is Omar Mateen, whose shooting spree in the name of the Islamic State resulted in the death of 49 individuals in Orlando last June.

These threats must be combated by whoever takes office in 2017. ISIS was a main topic of last week’s Commander in Chief Forum on NBC, in which both candidates shared the stage for the first time this election season.

There is certainly more discussion of these issues to come.