Mark Dolan: There's a cruel irony that the Taliban are back 20 years after 9/11

In the West, we've learnt nothing from our mistakes of the past

Published Last updated

On September 11 2001, 20 years ago today, nineteen militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al Qaeda, hijacked four airplanes and carried out suicide attacks against targets in the United States. Two of the planes were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, a third plane hit the Pentagon, just outside Washington, DC, and the fourth plane crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Almost 3,000 people were killed.

20 years ago today, at 845am, on a beautiful, clear morning, as New Yorkers were commuting to work, fighting over taxis in Times Square, jogging in Central Park and queuing up at Starbucks, for their early morning cup of joe, an American Airlines Boeing 767, loaded with 20,000 gallons of jet fuel, crashed into the north tower, of the World Trade Center, in New York City.

The impact left a gaping, burning hole near the 80th floor, of the hundred and ten storey skyscraper, instantly killing hundreds of people and trapping hundreds more on higher floors.

As the evacuation of the tower and its twin got underway, television cameras broadcasted live images, of what initially appeared to be a freak accident. Then, 18 minutes after the first plane hit, a second plane —United Airlines Flight 175—appeared out of the sky, turned sharply toward the World Trade Center, and sliced into the south tower, near the 60th floor.

The collision caused a massive explosion, that showered burning debris over surrounding buildings and onto the streets below. It immediately became clear that America was under attack.

This was a shameless and horrific moment in human history, and a tragedy for those involved and their families, many of whom had to make the impossible decision, of leaping from one of the towers, or perishing within them. The scale of human violence and horror is unparalleled. America's response, and that of then President George W Bush, was bizarrely to invade Iraq, a country with no identifiable link, to the perpetrators of 9/11, Osama Bin Laden, and terror group Al Qaeda. America's emotions were understandably heightened at this point, and the impulse was to fight back and hurt someone, anyone, for what had happened.

Evil man that Saddam Hussein was, this ill-fated invasion, which smacked more of unfinished business, for the Bush family, than a serious strategic vision, simply cost more lives on both sides and fermented hatred towards the west, in the region. And with that sexed up dossier, Tony Blair and his chief spin doctor Alistair Campbell, made sure that we were signatories and active participants, in that doomed adventure in the Middle East.

The weapons of mass destruction, were in the end about as forthcoming, as the loch ness monster. And our clumsy, ill-conceived departure from Iraq – does that sound familiar at all – a messy departure - just heaped further shame on Western allies. So how is the world looking 20 years on? Safer? more dangerous? somewhere in between? Well if you'd asked me a month ago I would've said perhaps marginally safer.

What a cruel irony it is therefore, that the Allies’ well-publicised and catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan, a short few weeks ago, amplifies the fact that the world is now a more dangerous place. All with the stroke of a pen and a presidential order. No show Joe, what a shmo. The Taliban are back in charge of Afghanistan, with access to mineral resources, a heroin industry, and tens of billions of dollars worth of US military equipment.

In the west, we've learnt nothing from our mistakes of the past and the Afghanistan withdrawal is just the latest example. So Western leaders have failed us, but let's not forget who the real enemy is. It's the wicked extremists and their toxic ideology, that have perpetrated these crimes. The attack on the World Trade Centre 20 years ago, was an attack on the United States and it was an attack on all of us, and our values of freedom, humanity and democracy.

These twisted monsters are doubtless in the ascendancy now, buoyed and emboldened by the West's pathetic retreat, from the region. We will in time have no choice, but to return to the stage of war. From counterintelligence, to strategic deployment of troops and potential drone and airstrikes, the war on terror will continue. To think that it would ever end, is a pipe dream. It's no different to our conversation yesterday about Winston Churchill, who faced off against fascism and won. The human battle between good and evil ,will never end.

But be clear that the likes of Al Qaeda and Isis may prevail in certain battles, but they will never win the war. Good will always out. And it is good, for which we must always fight. Today is the time to reflect on the human tragedy of 9/11 and the lost lives. The great broadcaster David Letterman, on his CBS program the late show, came on air live from New York city shortly after the attacks. And his moving words are just as relevant now, as they were then.

In loving memory of all of those ,who lost their lives twenty years ago today, on the 11th of September 2001. May you rest in peace.