On September 11, 2001, two Boeing 767 hijacked planes crashed into both towers of the World Trade Center in New York City while another plane careened into the Pentagon. Another California-bound plane was also hijacked, but flight attendants and passengers fought back against them; this ended in the plane crashing in a rural field in western Pennsylvania.
On top of mayhem in New York City, burning debris and the collapse of nearby buildings spilled onto the streets of the major metro area as people ran for their lives. After the initial chaos of that day, nearly 3,000 civilians, first responders, firefighters, military personnel, and cops were either killed or died in the line of duty.
The event, orchestrated by the terrorist group al-Qaida, rocked not only the United States but the entire world.
September 11 this year marks the 21st anniversary of the tragedy, so we're taking a look at what's happened since that fateful day, from the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan to the long-term recovery efforts at home.
9/11 Victim Compensation Fund
Thousands of first responders and people living near Ground Zero, the sight of the World Trade Center's collapse, were exposed to the toxic fumes and particles during the incident. Many families were grappling with the loss of their loved ones, and others suffered injuries from the attack.
First responders and civilians are still suffering and dying from 9/11-related illnesses, including cancer. A study from Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai found that 9/11 first responders and police officers were 9% more likely to develop any cancer. The risk increases dramatically for specific cancers like thyroid and leukemia.
Over $7 billion in compensation was made available to families of the 9/11 victims and injured people between 2001 and 2004. President Barack Obama signed James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, renewing the funding on January 2, 2011. Funding was renewed again in 2015 but the Fund was due to stop accepting claims in December 2020.
President Donald Trump signed a law to support the Victim Compensation Fund through 2092 on July 29, 2019.
Department Of Homeland Security
Some young Americans may not be aware that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has only been around for nearly two decades. It was established in response to security fears stemming from 9/11 and an incident involving anthrax, an infectious disease that can be fatal if inhaled. Americans were getting anthrax through mysterious letters, which led to 17 infections and two deaths.
President George W. Bush signed the Department of Homeland Security Act into law on November 25, 2002, creating the agency. They're responsible for preventing terror attacks, cybersecurity issues, avian and border security, customs, immigration, and disaster relief and prevention.
The Assassination Of Osama Bin Laden
Osama bin Laden is known as the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks and part of the reason the United States invaded Afghanistan. President Bush sent American troops into the country to search for and eliminate bin Laden, but it wasn't until 2011 that he met his end under the Obama Administration.
U.S. forces tracked down the Al-Qaida founder to a hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan, killing bin Laden on May 2, 2011. The following month, President Obama announced the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
The 9/11 Memorial and Museum
There have been many memorials and commemorations for the 9/11 attacks, from candlelight vigils to international tributes. "Tribute in Lights" is an annual tradition in New York City that started in 2002 on the first anniversary. Two blue beams of light shoot into the sky as a tribute to the lives lost that day.
A competition was held to select a permanent memorial for the victims of 9/11, and Michael Arad won with his "Reflecting Absence" design. This memorial opened on September 11, 2011, to commemorate the 10th anniversary. Over 150 bronze panels have the names of the victims engraved on it and surround two reflecting pools of waterfalls. The water gushes down where the Twin Towers once stood.
"The National September 11 Memorial & Museum followed, opening on the original World Trade Center site in May 2014," according to History.com. "The Freedom Tower, also on the original World Trade Center site, opened in November 2014."
Withdrawal Of American Troops & Taliban Takeover Of Afghanistan
In July 2021, American troops and U.S. allies started a large-scale exit from Afghanistan. Shortly after the U.S. began withdrawal operations, the Taliban took control of the country's capital, Kabul. Even the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, fled to allegedly avoid the massive bloodshed of his people, according to CNN.
Things started spiraling out of control as Afghan natives piled into Hamid Karzai International Airport to escape the country. A suicide bomber attacked the airport and killed over 200 people, including 13 U.S. service members on August 26, 2021. The bomber was a member of ISIS-K, another Islamist extremist group.
The U.S. announced that the final troops left Afghanistan on August 30, 2021 -- a day before their deadline. Over 122,000 troops, including 5,400 Americans, have evacuated since July. The 20-year war ended.
Even though all Americans left the embattled country, the U.S. and other countries continued to receive Afghan refugees due to the chaotic situation.
The Assassination Of Ayman Al-Zawahiri
Nearly a year after the U.S. withdrew troops, allies, and citizens from Afghanistan, the Department of Defense announced the death of al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri on August 2, 2022. Officials say Zawahiri was staying as a Taliban guest at a house in downtown Kabul and launched a missile strike on the location early that morning. The U.S. claims he was the only casualty.
Zawahiri became the leader of al-Qaida after bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces. The government says the terrorist served as bin Laden's deputy and helped carry out not only the 9/11 attacks but other deadly events prior to 2001, including the 2000 assault on the USS Cole in Yemen that left 17 sailors dead.
"Now, justice has been delivered, and this terrorist leader is no more," President Joe Biden said in the statement. "People around the world no longer need to fear the vicious and determined killer. The United States continues to demonstrate our resolve and our capacity to defend the American people against those who seek to do us harm."
Assessing The U.S. Presence In Afghanistan
The House Armed Forces Committee released a statement on August 19, 2022, detailing United States' counterterrorism efforts after pulling American troops from Afghanistan nearly a year later. In the release, they also explain why they couldn't stick around in the country for another 20 years:
"Sustaining America's military presence for twenty more years would not have resulted in the creation of an independent Afghan government that could provide for the security of the people of Afghanistan," according to the statement.
Congress also established the Afghanistan War Commission, an independent and bipartisan entity that will conduct a "detailed and comprehensive assessment of America's involvement in Afghanistan from June 2001 to August 2021."