The CIA President’s daily briefing at 8 a.m. on September 11, 2001 focused on events in the West Bank and Gaza – there was no reference to al Qaeda and certainly no hint of the attacks to come anymore. late in the day.
In fact, there was no mention of international terrorism. It was the last time this would happen.
By the end of the briefing, the early stages of the attacks were already underway. Hours later, the catastrophic specter of Islamist terrorism erupted into global consciousness, and it has not been gone since.
If the focus that day and the following weeks was placed on New York, the victims and the pain of America, September 11, 2001 was also the day when everything changed for the Arab world.
The American response was to invade Afghanistan: within months, they had driven the Taliban from power and eliminated the threat of al-Qaeda from the country.
Operation Enduring Freedom, which had British military backing, was swift and successful, so much so that in March of the following year the attention of the United States turned to Iraq, the next target of the war on terror. That would prove a mistake.
In 20 years of military occupation and covert counterterrorism operations, trillions of dollars have been spent to fight Islamist organizations in countries of the Middle East and North Africa: Afghanistan, Pakistan , Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Libya. Towards what success?
Well, it is highly unlikely that a 9/11 scale attack could occur today – the infrastructure and leadership of the two main terrorist threats, al Qaeda and the Islamic State, have been degraded to so much so that the planning of such a daring assault would not go unnoticed.
Increasingly sophisticated surveillance technology has given military and intelligence analysts greater awareness of activity in ungoverned regions that were once stations for training camps.
But a secret CIA drone program, mostly in the tribal areas of Pakistan and Yemen, proved controversial, as the targets were eliminated without too much concern for collateral damage.
Every bombed-out wedding, destroyed school, or targeted funeral was a recruiting advantage for the jihad. The War on Terror has alienated millions of people across the Middle East and they remain so to this day.
Improved border and immigration operations have kept suspected fanatics from traveling to battlefields and returning to carry out attacks in Europe, but not after many traveled to Syria and Iraq to join the EI.
Confronted with restricted movement, the internet has become the new battleground for conspiracy and recruitment. IS exploited it to devastating effect, spreading messages and inspiring from afar, even guiding attacks on European cities.
Western cyber agencies, run by GCHQ and NSA, are now much better at discovering, monitoring, and deleting content, but they have been catching up for some time.
In this region, there are still families who mourn loved ones killed in Western military engagements, and they will always hold America and its allies accountable; there are men angry for the years they have been imprisoned and sometimes tortured in the United States, often without being charged or tried; and there are religious fanatics, who will forever twist the scriptures to find a reason to fight the infidel stranger.
It is questionable whether the foundation for IS was laid before or after the 2003 invasion, but the perceived abandonment of the Sunni community in Iraq has certainly accelerated the rise of ISIS.
The full consequences of NATO’s departure from Afghanistan are not yet known, but we are already seeing a psychological boost for jihadists around the world.
Fighters try to get to Afghanistan to take advantage of the security vacuum, the Pentagon already estimates there are around 2,000 ISIS-K fighters in the country and ISIS and Al Qaeda affiliates in the country. Sahel renewed their belief that they can oust the French occupying forces in the same way the Taliban did to the Americans in Afghanistan.
The success of terrorist groups in attacking the West in the future will depend on a myriad of reasons, but the driving force behind 9/11 has been eliminated.
For his followers Osama bin Laden was charismatic and inspiring, for the West he was elusive and dangerous. Bin Laden’s success in organizing such a devastating attack, right in the center of Western capitalism, was due to luck and the failures of American intelligence, but it was also the culmination of a vision to strike down. the interior of America which he had first expressed in 1986.
Few, if any, could have followed such a strategy through, certainly not his successor Ayman al-Zawahiri, the current leader of Al Qaeda.
But the threat has not gone away. During the COVID-19 pandemic, MI5 disrupted six potential attacks, all in the late stages of planning; over the past four years, the agency has foiled a total of 31 plots, all of which are well-developed.
The threat may have changed, as have the personnel and the battlefield, but the distorted ideology of Islamist extremism remains constant and as long as it has an audience somewhere, a threat to the West will exist.
The good work done in the shadows belies the reality on the streets.