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9/11 attacks, George W. Bush’s ‘Pearl Harbor’

This is how the US president experienced the worst terrorist attack in history

George W. Bush was caught by the impact of the first plane against the World Trade Center in New York visiting an elementary school in Florida. When the second took place, he was already in class with some children, in an image that will go down in history for his face of total amazement at what was happening. Finally, there would be four commercial planes used by Al Qaeda to attack that fateful September 11, 2001.

In his memoirs ‘Decision Points’, Bush recalls that after informing him that a commercial plane had crashed into one of the towers, he thought that he must be the “worst pilot in the world”, but after learning that a second aircraft had crashed into the other tower was clear that this was not an accident.

“My first reaction was outrage. Someone had dared to attack America. They are going to pay for it,” was the first thing he thought. After the class, and after gathering information about what had happened, he made the first declarations of himself to the nation, informing that there had been “an apparent terrorist attack.”

On his way to Air Force One to return to Washington, his then National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice, informed him that a third plane had hit the Pentagon. “The first plane could have been an accident. The second was definitely an attack. The third was a declaration of war,” she stresses in her memoir.

“We had suffered the most devastating surprise attack since Pearl Harbor,” he recalls that he thought, referring to the bombardment by Japan against this naval base located in Hawaii that caused the United States to enter World War II. And there was still a fourth plane left.

But before hearing about it, Bush had already given instructions for the Air Combat Patrol pilots, which flew over both New York and Washington, to make land any aircraft that he did not contact and if this was not possible they had permission to shoot it down. . “The hijacked planes were weapons of war,” he emphasizes.

In fact, hours later he gave permission to shoot down one of these planes from Madrid and whose crew did not respond. Bush recalls that he thought about the possible “diplomatic ramifications”, but also about the risk that not toppling him might pose. Finally, news came that it had been a false alarm and the plane had landed in Lisbon.

Before that the fourth plane had crashed in Pennsylvania. At first he feared that he had been shot down, but later he learned that it was the passengers of Flight 93 who broke into the cabin and caused the accident to avoid another attack, since they were aware of what had happened so much in New York as in Washington.

The main question was who was behind these attacks and the answer was given by the then director of the CIA, George Tenet: “Al Qaeda.” According to Bush, at that time “most Americans had never heard of” the group that Usama bin Laden founded, and that in 1998 he had attacked the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and against the destroyer ‘USS Cole’ in Yemen in 2000.

Bush says that that same summer he had asked the CIA to analyze the possibilities of Al Qaeda attacking on US soil and acknowledges that at the beginning of August the agency reiterated Bin Laden’s desire to attack inside the United States, although he specified that he could not confirm any concrete plan.

In its daily report to the president, dated August 6, the CIA indicates that “members of Al Qaeda – including some who are US citizens – have resided or traveled to the United States for years and the group apparently maintains a support structure. that could help in attacks. “

However, the CIA acknowledges that it has not been able to “corroborate some of the most sensationalist information”, including an arrival of a foreign intelligence service that pointed out that in 1998 Bin Laden had said that he “wanted to hijack an American plane” to get the release of some “extremists” detained in the United States, among them the one known as ‘Blind Sheik’, Omar Abdel Rahman.

The president returned to Washington in the middle of the afternoon, and while he was flying by helicopter from Andrews base to the White House, he was able to see the smoking Pentagon building from the air. “He was contemplating a modern ‘Pearl Habor’. Just as Franklin Roosevelt had to unite the nation to defend freedom, it would be my responsibility to lead a new generation to protect America,” he recalls him thinking.

By then it was clear to him that the United States was in a “war against terrorism” although he decided that it was not a good idea to announce it that same day, just hours after the blow received with the attacks. Thus, in his speech to the nation that night he limited himself to promising “to find those responsible and bring them to justice.”

“We will not make distinctions between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them,” he assured, thus laying the first stone of what weeks later would be the war against terrorism. In the following weeks, the United States concentrated on forming a coalition of countries willing to support Washington in this new crusade, beginning with the United Kingdom, with whose Prime Minister, Tony Blair, Bush says he forged a close friendship.

“This would be a different war. We were facing an enemy that had no capital to call home and no army to follow on the battlefield,” the former president clarifies, hence the importance of seeking the support of countries such as Pakistan, for its influence on the Taliban, but also Saudi Arabia, bin Laden’s native country, or the United Arab Emirates.

Thus, on October 7, 2001, less than a month after the worst terrorist attacks to date, the United States began bombing Afghanistan. “Ending the sanctuary of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan was essential to protect Americans,” defends Bush in his book, stressing that “America’s counterattack was underway” and “the liberation of Afghanistan had begun.”

The final objective of the offensive has returned to the fore in recent weeks following the return to power of the Taliban, who were evicted in December 2001. According to Bush himself, unlike on other occasions when the United States was attacked As in Somalia in 1993 or in the attacks on the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, this time the response would include the deployment of troops, which would remain “until the Taliban and Al Qaeda are expelled and a free society can emerge.”

Although his initial intention was to complete the mission and retire, Bush changed his mind. “We had liberated the country from a primitive dictatorship and we had a moral obligation to leave something better behind. We also had a strategic interest in helping Afghans build a free society,” he explains in his memoirs.

However, 20 years later Afghanistan seems doomed to return to the starting box. In a statement published after the Taliban took Kabul, Bush sent a special message to the thousands of veterans of this conflict and their families, to make them see that their effort was not in vain: “You denied al Qaeda a sanctuary” and You “kept America safe from more terrorist attacks” as well as “providing two decades of security and opportunity for millions” of Afghans.

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