John Dailey recalls the events of September 11, 2001, well.
“We were in Darwin, Australia, training, and it was actually the first night that we got to go out” on the town, Dailey, who was the platoon sergeant for the force reconnaissance platoon for the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, told me recently. He and his men had finished training and were preparing to get back on their boat.
“We were all sitting in a pub in Darwin with soccer games on TV,” he said. “Suddenly, they switched over to images of the World Trade Center in flames, and we knew it wasn’t going to be a routine deployment.”
They were at sea the next morning. A few weeks later, Dailey says, they were in Pakistan to secure some areas. By November, they were in Afghanistan. Tuesday marks 17 years since Dailey and his men watched the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center come down in New York—and soon it’ll be as long for the U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan that came shortly afterward.
The U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 quickly evolved from a mission to capture or kill Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda’s leadership to one in which the focus became fighting the Taliban (while conducting clandestine operations inside Pakistan to hunt for al-Qaeda’s leadership). Seventeen years and tens of billions of dollars later, the conflict is at a stalemate: At least as long as the U.S. remains in the country, the Afghan government will remain in charge even as the Taliban continues to showcase its ability to carry out attacks seemingly at will. The duration of that war, and the U.S. war in Iraq, has meant repeated deployments for some U.S. military personnel, the psychological cost of which the Army was already warning about a decade ago. One of the most recent American fatalities in Afghanistan, from just this month, was on his seventh combat deployment. The continuation of the conflict, now nearly a generation long, also means that people who can’t even remember the attacks are old enough to deploy—a 20-year-old soldier killed in Afghanistan this summer wasn’t yet 3 years old on September 11, 2001. Soon people who weren’t even born then will be old enough to go fight.