11 September 2009

Thoughts on 9-11 from Afghanistan

LTC Steve Osterholzer is currently deployed with Task Force Spartan, 3rd Combat Brigade, 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan and sent these thoughts early today. The interview referenced in the last paragraph is scheduled for broadcast on the CBS Nightly News this evening.

Hi All,

Some of you have asked what my thoughts are of fighting in Afghanistan today, the anniversary of 9-11. It was one thing to mark the anniversary of that horrific day when I was in the states, perhaps going to a memorial ceremony or simply for a walk in the woods. To remember, to reflect on how I felt, to reflect on the state of our world then and now, to reflect on the morals, love, and evil of mankind. Well, it is all of that and more... so MUCH more, actually being HERE in Afghanistan, where those attacks all started. Serving here, the origin and the genesis of those attacks, where they plotted and trained for the attack that killed over 3,000 innocent Americans on our own soil, truly does feel like I am at "Ground Zero."

A whole lot has happened since that day, a day in which "night fell on a different world, a world where freedom itself was under attack." A whole lot of people have answered the call, to do "whatever it takes" to prevent another attack from stealing our loved ones from us in an attack on the American way of life. Police officers like my brave brother Tom, FBI agents, Homeland Security personnel, intelligence officers, bankers who assist in figuring out the financial web, and even those who simply participate in Community Watch Programs. Countless people, including my brothers and sisters in arms that serve with me here in the dust and heat of Afghanistan, have worked tirelessly with one simple goal: to prevent another 9-11.

I am especially moved by the 19-year-old privates that I talk to sometimes, about why they joined the Army. Many of them simply say, "9-11." Think about that: they were only 11 years old at the time of the attack and yet they are still so moved by what happened on that day that they are over here fighting the IEDs, the Taliban, and the mountains and deserts themselves.

Eight years after that attack changed our world, we as a nation are still laboring to prevent that attack. And we have been successful: despite the fear that an onslaught of attacks would happen in the weeks, months, and years that followed 9/11, essentially there has not been one single successful attack. Some naively believe that the threat simply "evaporated," that it went away. That it no longer exists. Well after working in the bowels of Cheyenne Mountain and United States Northern Command for three years and earning a Masters in Homeland Security Studies, I can assure you with certainty that several attack equal to or exceeding 9-11 were discovered and prevented.

So 8 years after 9-11 we as a nation can look back with pride and satisfaction that our diligence and serve to our nation has kept the terrorists from attacking our shores. This protection has allowed our nation to enjoy safety and security, but that success has been accompanied by complacency. Not just in the U.S. but with other nations as well. Many nations have grown understandably weary of war... that the safety that has been EARNED at such great cost has led them to believe that the threat is over... that there is no longer a need to send their soldiers to fight in distant lands. I see that more and more in the media.

But here's the thing: the hatred towards America is still very REAL and very DANGEROUS. We see that here. The Taliban's hatred for free people, even Afghans through democratic elections, still motivates them to fire rockets and plant IEDs, even killing innocent Afghans to accomplish their goal (more on that in a moment). Their hatred for freedom and the American way of life lives on, unabated and fierce. Sometimes I'm asked, "why are we here?" That is a question of great debate, but to me, having been inside the intelligence circles of counter-terrorism at my last duty assignment and being here on the dusty villages and flying over the endless series of caves and remote valleys in Afghanistan, the answer is pretty simple: we're here to prevent another 9-11.

Simply put, if we lose here, if we as a global society abandon this craphole of a country to the Taliban, they will have accomplished their goal of driving us out so that they can rebuild their training camps and launch future attacks. Anyone who thinks otherwise is a fool. They only need to come here, their boots dusty on the ground, to get a taste of the hatred these insurgents have of us and our way of life, to understand that to leave is to lose. And to lose is to greatly risk another day like the one our country suffered on 9/11.

Our president warned us back then that this war against terror would be "unlike any other that we have fought - that this would be a long war which must end in victory." And from my foxhole I see us being here in Afghanistan for a very long time. No, check that. I see us needing to be here for a very long time. My fear is that our country, understandably weary of 8 years of paying a very heavy price in treasure and blood, will lose the will that's necessary to sustain the long fight ahead.

Our soldiers here are tired... very tired... but incredibly resolved. I simply hope that our country is, too.

One of my favorite quotes is one I read on September 12th, 2001. Reading it now takes me back to how I felt that day. To be honest, how I feel now. Perhaps when you read it the anger, sorrow, and pure emotion of that day will come rushing back. Much has been written about September 11th in word and song ("Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning?" by Alan Jackson). And much has changed since then. Looking at these words I think about what has changed about us as a nation since that day. And yet, so much still remains from that day.

This was written by columnist Leonard Pitts from the Miami Herald, which perfectly captures how many Americans felt that day. It was essentially a short letter of questions directed towards the terrorist leaders here in Afghanistan:

What lessons did you hope to teach us by your cowardly attack on our World Trade Center, our Pentagon, us?
Did you want us to respect your cause? You just damned your cause.
Did you want to make us feel fear? You just steeled our resolve.
Did you want to tear us apart? You just brought us together.

So I ask you again; what was it you hoped to teach us?
It occurs to me that maybe you just wanted us to know the depths of your hatred.

If that's the case, consider the message received. And take this message in exchange:
You don't know my people. You don't know what we're capable of. You don't know what you just started.

But you are about to learn.

Okay, changing gears but only slightly (stay with me here). Several days ago on of our security patrols hit an IED. That's no big news - we've been averaging about 5-7 IED strikes everyday, usually with injuries but few fatalities. This IED blast was unique for three reasons though:

1. Instead of it being an explosive charge buried in the ground it was a 107mm rocket launched from the side of the road.
2. A very young boy was standing only about 7 feet away from the rocket when it was detonated by the triggerman.
3. The incident was captured on tape.

For the last couple of days I have been working with CBS Evening News on this story (working to declassify the tape and I did a phone interview with them). They tell me it will be broadcast during tonight's edition of the CBS Evening News. On 9-11. How poignant. What comes through loud and clear is that these insurgents do not even value the life of a young Afghan boy. From the command wire and the layout it's clear that the triggerman (only 35 yards away) clearly had to see the boy next to the rocket... and punched the trigger anyways. Fortunately both the driver of the vehilcle and the boy suffered relatively minor injuries (broken leg for the soldier, facial burns and shrapnel wounds for the boy). The explosion itself is shocking (for you guys who like explosions it's a pretty intense scene).

But the attack on our soldiers is not THE story here... it's the fact that the insurgents have no regard for even the life of a young boy, much less freedom. THAT is what we, not just us soldiers, but us as a country, are up against. And it's why we MUST prevail.

And that, to me, pretty much summarizes why we are here, and why we as a nation must have the will for the long fight ahead.

Anyways, that's just my two cents from being a soldier in Afghanistan on the anniversary of 9-11.

Bless you all,


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