On Sept. 11 came the attacks, and on Sept. 12 came the war.
It would be a month after the planes plowed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon before Operation Enduring Freedom was launched in Afghanistan, with B-52 bombers flattening Osama bin Laden’s camps in the east and U.S. and British ships unleashing Tomahawk cruise missiles from the Arabian sea. But, for all practical purposes, it was this day 10 years ago when the war began.
“As dawn was breaking on the first day after the gravest terrorist assault in American history, President Bush and his top diplomats were already lining up support across Europe, the Middle East and Asia for a response that they said would not just apprehend the attackers but retaliate against any countries behind them,” a front-page story from The Washington Post said at the time.
Over the weekend, George Washington University’s National Security Archive, a nonprofit research organization, released a collection of what it called previously secret U.S. documents about the government response to Sept. 11. Among them is a message warning Mullah Omar that “every pillar of the Taliban regime will be destroyed” and a memo in which then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld advises President George W. Bush, “If the war does not significantly change the world’s political map, the U.S. will not achieve its aim.”
In yet another document, drafted a month after the attacks, officials at the Defense Department signal their concern that the United States could get immersed in some sort of nation-building effort in Afghanistan.
“The U.S. should not commit to any post-Taliban military involvement since the U.S. will be heavily engaged in the anti-terrorism effort worldwide,” reads a strategy paper for the National Security Council.
It’s unclear what in the documents has been previously undisclosed. Over the past few years, the substance of many of them has surfaced in various ways -- including in memoirs by Bush, Rumsfeld and others — even if the actual papers have not. The cables could be found in the WikiLeaks cache.
The documents, nonetheless, make up an interesting and well-curated resource, one that helps understand not only how it was that the nation shifted so quickly to a war footing but how that strategy became such an expansive one.
As Rumsfeld wrote to Bush in the aftermath of the attacks, the United States should not just find “a few hundred terrorists in the caves of Afghanistan” but use “the vastness of our military and humanitarian resources” to crush the threat of terrorism and the states that support it.
The documents can be found here.