Friday, September 11, 2009

September 11, 2001 plus eight: Let's never forget

One thing about the evolution of Americans' views -- and disagreements -- about the 9/11 attacks that I'll never understand is the almost total lack of interest in what took place in Afghanistan as the U.S. counter-attacked swiftly and with devastating effect on al Qaeda. In brief, while the Pentagon had no contingency plans to operate inside land-locked Afghanistan, a tiny team of seven CIA officers, led by veteran Gary Schroen (who was pulled back from planned retirement), flew in an old Soviet helicopter over the Hindu Kush into the Panjshir Valley on September 23rd. For nearly a month, Shroen's team were the only Americans on this battlefront, gathering intelligence, forging an alliance with local Afghans, and developing the strategy and tactics that would result in the Taliban and al Qaeda being quickly routed with remarkably little loss of life.

As Shroen summed it up in a compelling and informative "Frontline" interview:

What happened there in those last few months of 2001 to me was a validation of what the agency could be and should be. We were ready; we had established contacts long before anybody thought we'd needed them; ... we had the means in the area to allow us to infiltrate into the hostile territory to meet with [Afghan] colleagues there who were besieged. We had the area knowledge; we had language skills. We did it right. We did it cheap. ... We probably, in my little operation in the Panjshir Valley, spent about $6 million during that period, and we ended up freeing the northern half of the country for probably $10 million total, and no loss of American life, except for [former Marine and CIA agent] Mike Spann, unfortunately. ...

On 9/11/09, read the whole interview. You'll be glad you did.

Your thoughts on this day? Post a comment.

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