think former CIA, military, diplomatic staff


U.S. Army soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division landed during a combat mission from a Chinook 47 helicopter on March 5, 2002 in eastern Afghanistan.

Keith D. McGrew | US Army Getty Images News

Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks that took 2,977 lives and changed the world forever. It has permanently changed the security landscape in the United States and elsewhere, forcing governments to completely rethink their defense strategies, policies, and tactics in the fight against terrorism.

Twenty years later, events in the country itself that hid the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks – Afghanistan – have seen the war on terror terrorizingly rounded off.

The break-up of Afghanistan following the withdrawal of US troops and its takeover by the Taliban – a group that hosted al-Qaeda while planning attacks on the West – is a symbolic and devastating failure for many.

In the last two decades of the war on terror, millions of lives have been lost and billions of dollars spent. CNBC spoke with the CIA, military and diplomatic veterans of the ongoing War on Terror, asking them what they think America has learned – and has not learned – since September 11, 2001.

What have we learned since 9/11?

Nada Bakos, a former CIA analyst

“Honestly, I don’t think we’ve learned that much; I think we’re probably destined to make some of those mistakes again. But I hope we’re done with the huge occupations of other countries.”

“I hope we have now reached a point where we realize we cannot expand our democracy and rebuild other countries on our model, in a way that we were naive enough at the time to think would work.”

Jay, a former veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and the Afghan war

“We have learned that 20 years of war have made us the best in the world in terms of small unit tactics, but we are not concerned about continuing the fight against the rebels.

I think the consequence (of Afghanistan) is that no one will rush to intervene. Wherever. Until the trauma of this disappeared.

William Patey

Former British Ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq

“I think a lot of Americans have learned not to trust their government.” The leadership “lied to the American public for 20 years, while the actual situation on the ground in Afghanistan was not a mystery to the people who served there. It has been going on for two years for decades . ”

The world’s only shopping mall is reflected in a nearby building on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attack on Manhattan in New York City, USA, on Sept. 10, 2021.

Carlos Barria | Reuters

“Here’s a scary thing: I don’t think the public has learned anything. They haven’t invested in GWOT [Global War on Terrorism] on a large scale. If they did, they would demand responsibility for the whole thing, and the debacle in Kabul is a catalyst. ”

Jay requested that his last name be retained due to professional limitations in addressing reporters.

Combining terrorism with religion was the biggest mistake I think was made. We created enemies that did not exist.

Said Jalal Karim

Former Afghan ambassador to Saudi Arabia

William Patey, former British Ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq

“We have certainly learned the limitations of using force to solve problems such as global terrorism – we have learned that it is more complex, and that liberal democracies are not very good at devoting the necessary time and resources to doing their job. They are impatient and their political horizons are very short.

“What we’ve also learned since 9/11 is that the radical Islamist threat remains as strong as ever, it hasn’t disappeared. And importantly, we’ve learned that the radical Islamist ideology is not Islam. It’s different.”

“We still have things like the war on terror, the war on drugs. These are wars that are failing. These are current social and ideological issues that require complex, difficult policies that cannot be dealt with as easily as war.”

Bruce Riedel, former CIA analyst and member of the National Security Council

“What we have not learned for 20 years stands out. We cannot effectively control the threat of terror without addressing its cause: the Palestinian conflict and occupation.

Listen to our enemies, Osama bin Laden, and listen to our friends, King Abdallah II: they are both telling the same truth that the Palestinian issue is at the heart of the conflict. “

Sayed Jalal Karim, Afghan diplomat and former ambassador to Saudi Arabia

“I think the intent that the U.S. had was a good intention, because the 9/11 attacks were a horror to everyone. I believe the whole war on terror is a justifiable reason.

“But merging terrorism with religion was the biggest mistake made. We created enemies that didn’t exist.”

The ruins of the World Trade Center are forming after the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001 in New York.

Porter Gifford | Getty Images

Cole T. Lyle, former U.S. Marine and Afghanistan war veteran and former Senate military adviser

“In the last twenty years, we have learned again that the U.S. military cannot be defeated at the tactical or, with rare exceptions, operational level of warfare. But the United States can be defeated at the strategic.”

Fragile or failed states are hotbeds of terrorism, and I think we have created new hotspots.

Tracy Walder

Former officer, CIA counterterrorism center

“DC foreign and defense policy makers must begin to think long-term about U.S. strategic interests globally instead of choosing what is in their best interest short-term. The American people must demand that their elected representatives firmly grasp the strategic goal. States in any a great conflict that continues. “

Is the world a safer place today?

Tracy Walder, former police officer, CIA Counterterrorism Center

“September 11 made us deal with a war of ideas, not a war of people or the conquest of territory and land. I think we are safer in understanding it better.

“However, we have created a certain instability in the countries because of the things we have been doing there since 9/11. Fragile or failed states are hotbeds of terrorism, and I think we have created new hotspots as a result.”

Nada Bakos, a former CIA analyst

“I think we relaxed and ran in terms of security. The U.S. government caught people planning attacks and prevented them before they could take action, from 9/11.

“I think in a way we are safer, I think in another way our actions have obviously created a lot more chaos and damage and – ISIS. I mean, let’s be realistic, we wouldn’t have ISIS if we hadn’t invaded Iraq. It wouldn’t have had Al-Qaeda in Iraq. “

Sayed Jalal Karim, Afghan diplomat and former ambassador to Saudi Arabia

“I don’t believe we are more insecure now, but we could be in a much better position, to balance the fight against terrorism from all different aspects – education, economy, mentality, instead of just the military – and not merge terrorism with religion.”

William Patey, former British Ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq

“Obviously it was safer for the United States where they had not had a serious terrorist attack in the continental United States for 20 years. But Europe and the Middle East have experienced more terrorist attacks … The threat has now spread around the world.

The Taliban take control of Hamid Karzai International Airport after the withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan, to Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 31, 2021.

Wali Sabawoon | Anadolu Agency Getty Images

“We have a better intelligence defense; it is much harder for terrorists to carry out complex attacks like the one on 9/11 … but this ideology is still able to produce indigenous people willing to do unspeakable things. And indeed, the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan is likely to encourage these people.

“The nature of the threat has changed – it is less concentrated and more widespread around the world. The radical Islamist franchise is alive and well.”

Ahmad Wardak, An Afghan expert and former journalist from Kabul

“I think the United States is much weaker than it was 20 years ago, primarily because of two wars that have been unsuccessful. And if we move on to 9/11, the Middle East has been relatively peaceful.

“If you look at the failed states, as a result of the American invasions of the Middle East and Afghanistan, many of these failed states are prone to terrorist organizations. It’s a fear for national security.”

My heart hurts. It hurts people in Afghanistan who have not known true peace for decades … it hurts my country, whose national part has suffered.

Cole T. Lyle

a former war veteran of the U.S. Marines and Afghanistan

“I don’t think the world is in a better place than it was before 2001. Now the United States and its allies in the Middle East are in a much more vulnerable position with Iran as a regional hegemon – in the absence of Saddam Hussein – and the Taliban back in power in Afghanistan.”

How would you describe your feelings, thinking about where we are now?

Tracy Walder, a former employee of the CIA Counterterrorism Center

“The last two weeks of August, just speaking on my own behalf, have been incredibly difficult for me. I felt like everything I did didn’t matter. Like all the good I was trying to do it was just kind of erased.”

“I feel very frustrated. I feel very much like we literally left people hanging there, to die. I don’t blame Biden, Trump, Obama – I don’t blame one person. The whole thing is frustrating. We failed to culturally understand Afghanistan.

William Patey, former British Ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq

“I think the biggest frustration, combined with the sadness, is because it didn’t have to be this way. I don’t think we had to suffer a complete defeat for a fairly small investment compared to what we had invested before.

A man mourns the 9/11 Memorial on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in Manhattan, New York, USA, on September 11, 2021.

Mike Segar Reuters | Facebook Facebook

“We built an Afghan army that was completely dependent on day-to-day air support and logistics, and then we pulled the carpet out from under them and were a little surprised when they collapsed. So the way we left was very frustrating.”

Jay, a former veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and the Afghan war

“I sincerely hope that more people inside and outside the government have taken notes and are ready to fix the whole national security apparatus because our opponents around the world have definitely paid attention.”

Cole T. Lyle, former U.S. Marine and Afghanistan war veteran and former Senate military adviser

“The war in Afghanistan was the most morally just war that an American has entered since World War II. But policymakers have come to an end without thinking, and now we are seeing results.

“How do I generally feel about the war? My heart aches. It hurts the people of Afghanistan who have not known true peace for decades and who will now live under the evil rule of the Taliban again.

The artist pays tribute to the victims of the explosions at Hamid Kazrai International Airport in Kabul, in front of an art school in Mumbai, India, on August 27, 2021.

Francis Mascarenhas | Reuters

“It hurts the Gold Star families who lost everything. It hurts my brothers and sisters in the U.S. Armed Forces and the UK who lost friends. It hurts my country, whose national part has perished as we leave American citizens and the people who fought with us. “

William Patey, former British Ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq

“The limitations of superior military power shown by Iraq and Afghanistan will make countries in the West very reluctant to get involved.

“I think the consequence is that no one will rush to intervene. Anywhere. Until the trauma of this is gone.”


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