Washington, DC – Today marks 20 years since the American people were shocked by a terrorist attack on our own soil that killed 2996 people and injured thousands more. Foreign Policy for America honors and remembers the lives of those lost on September 11th, 2001. That includes the courageous first responders and the heroes of flight 93, who saved countless lives.
Today we also mark the 20th anniversary of the war on terror, inaugurated by President George W. Bush. The human costs of those 20 years of war have been enormous. Ultimately, nearly 800,000 U.S. troops rotated through Afghanistan at least once, and nearly 30,000 saw at least five deployments. 2,365 American service members were killed. Over 20,000 were injured. In Iraq, where the U.S. invaded and toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein, another 4,598 service members were killed. Overall, the 2001 Authorization of Military Force, passed by Congress in the days after 9/11, has been used to justify counterterrorism operations in at least 19 countries.
Our military service members, and their families, have made extraordinary sacrifices in the effort to reduce the threat of terrorism. Less than 1% of the U.S. population serves as active-duty personnel in the U.S. military, yet they and their families have carried nearly 100% of the burden of these 20 years of war. They deserve our unending gratitude. As we mark the 20th anniversary of the war on terror and begin a transition away from the post-9/11 era, today is a powerful moment to recognize that extraordinary sacrifice and to commit to shift the burdens of our nation’s foreign policy away from our overstretched military.
Today, terrorism is not the preeminent threat to the safety and prosperity of American families. We face an unprecedented combination of global challenges, from the COVID-19 pandemic to a climate crisis devastating communities, from a global recession to cyber attacks to the spread of authoritarianism. These are problems that cannot be solved by our nation’s military alone but require the full range of our economic and diplomatic toolkit. They require global partnerships and collaboration with our closest allies around shared values. Most of all, they require a renewed commitment to American democracy and shared prosperity here at home.
We share President Biden’s conviction: we cannot address the threat of terrorism, or the many other challenges we face, through military efforts alone. The U.S. needs new approaches to address our national security challenges. Instead of relying first on military force, we should lead with diplomacy.
“The attacks on September 11, 2001 propelled 20 years of U.S. foreign policy,” said Foreign Policy for America Executive Director Andrew Albertson. “For many Americans and their families, those wars have defined an entire generation. Today needs to mark a turning point – away from twenty years of war and toward a new strategy that can actually address today’s challenges, from COVID to the climate crisis to the rising authoritarian influence of Russia and China.”