On September 11th, 2001, Two 747 Jet airliners hijacked by Al-Qaeda terrorists crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. Simultaneously, another airliner crashed into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. The loss of life was tragic, and launched the United States into years of war on terrorism and on Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, his Islamic militant group. But where did Bin Laden’s motivations come from? What drove Al-Qaeda to commit such atrocities? To find this answer, all one needs to do is look back into history.
Al-Qaeda’s roots first began in 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Osama Bin Laden, the man in charge, went to Afghanistan and began to organize mujahideen to fight against the Soviets. During this time, Bin Laden learned many things that would carry over to his war with the United States. Over the duration of the war, the United States provided financial aid, training, and weapons to the mujahideen via Pakistan. Bin Laden and his men were trained during this time on propaganda and various guerilla tactics, which come in handy in later conflicts.
During this time, under Ayman al-Zawahiri (the present-day leader of Al-Qaeda after Bin Laden), a radical Islamist, Bin Laden was gradually radicalized. In 1988, Al-Qaeda was officially formed, as a Jihadist group to “lift the word of God, to make his religion victorious”. The Afghanis eventually repel the consistent attacks from Soviet forces, and with their successes, gain some psychological and ideological traction. Afghanis begin to believe that they can not only hold off, but push back and potentially create major damage in large, powerful countries.
In fact, the Islamists who fought in the conflict believed that they were directly responsible for the fall of the United Soviet Socialist Republic; Osama bin Laden was quoted saying, “the dissolution of the Soviet Union… goes to God and the mujahideen in Afghanistan…” Over the next few years, Al-Qaeda rose to prominence as a radical Islamist group, being involved in conflicts around the middle east and Africa, including the gulf war, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Somalia, and Yemen. The entire time, US relations with the Middle East result in growing enmity for America and its policies.
Another big motivator for Al Qaeda and various radicalist groups was the aftermath of the Battle of Mogadishu, which happened in October 1993 in Mogadishu, Somalia, between United States forces (combined with UN forces to a small extent) and Somalia militia loyal to local warlord and aspiring president Mohamed Farrah Aidid. On October 3rd, the United States’ Task Force Ranger, consisting of Army Delta Force, Ranger teams, Navy SEALs, Air Force Combat Controllers and air support from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, executed an operation to drop in and capture leaders of Aidid’s clan, as a quick grab-and-go style operation.
With 19 aircraft, 12 vehicles, and 160 men, the assault was by no means a big operation, but rather a “routine” one. During the operation, two US Black hawk helicopters were shot down by militia RPG teams, and US personnel change the mission, with the goal of getting all their injured survivors out of the combat zone. Militia forces use “Surprise”, one of the nine principles of war, to strike the US forces in a manner in which they are not prepared.
After that, they use “Mass”, concentrating the main forces at both crash sites, essentially squeezing the US forces in a very small area, trapping from all sides. Some are able to evacuate back to safety, but others are isolated near crash sites; battles rage throughout the night, with giant waves of militia moving toward crash sites with US forces pushing from the other side. American forces are continually hammered until they are forced to withdraw, leaving wounded behind to be tortured and/or killed, and brutally dragged through the streets.
Not only was the operation a mess, with 18 U. S. Special Operations forces killed, but it affected politics, public opinion, and the perception of the United States’ strength. Yet another time, a world superpower with seemingly irrefutable strength is denied by a strong, but motivated force, technologically outgunned. So how do these tie in with the motives for 9/11? Well, as Al-Qaeda was gaining traction in the middle east with their various attacks over the years, they were also gradually getting more and more angry at western culture and specifically at the United States.
Combine that with the psychological ramifications of seeing two main superpowers lose to ill-equipped but motivated forces within a decade and one can see how Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda might be inspired to launch a full-scale attack on American soil. If relatively unorganized forces can not only hold off, but force retreat from forces that should massively overpower them, might it also be possible to strike a large country with a small, but highly organized force? Therein lies the connect to 9/11- each of these conflicts planted a seed that grew into Al-Qaeda’s most ambitious and successful attack, the attack on the World Trade Centers.
Bergen, Peter. “What Were the Causes of 9/11? ” Prospect Magazine. Prospect Magazine, 2006. Web. 04 Dec. 2012. . Wright, Lawrence (2006). The Looming Tower: al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. Alfred P. Knopf. pp. 362–367. Richey, Warren. “The Self-portrait of an Al Qaeda Leader. ” The Christian Science Monitor. The Christian Science Monitor, 16 Mar. 2007. Web. 04 Dec. 2012. . Mylroie, Laurie. “The American Spectator. ” The American Spectator. The American Spectator, 20 Sept. 2006. Web. 04 Dec. 2012. .