Just days after the United States military completed its pullout from Afghanistan, concluding the country’s longest war, civilians and veterans alike are preparing for a 9/11 anniversary unlike any other — one not at war.
As the Taliban swooped into power before the U.S. withdrawal was even complete, many veterans were left shocked, particularly by reports that 13 U.S. service members were killed by bombs from the Islamic State during the frenzied evacuation of American personnel and Afghan refugees from the Kabul airport.
“It was always going to be a mess,” said Navy Veteran and Supervisor Kristen Umstattd (D-Leesburg).
“There was never any way to pull out smoothly,” she said. “The one thing I think I share with an awful lot of Americans right now is a desire to get our allies out safely, them and their families. And I think all of us wish that had been done much earlier.”
Umstattd and other leaders said they understand the difficulty veterans have in talking about the attacks in 2001 and U.S. withdrawal from the country. Some said veterans are speechless, the experiences are painful, personal and they find it easier to remain silent.
Veterans make up 7.9 percent of the total population in Loudoun County, according to the U.S. Census taken in 2019. The total equates to over 32,000 veterans in a population of 413,538.
Former state Del. David Ramadan (R), who teaches political science at George Mason, said the decision to leave Afghanistan was a mistake by both previous and the current presidential administrations.
Ramadan said he’s concerned about how the decision will reflect on future engagements.
“People are going to say, ‘why would I get involved with Americans if one day — even if it’s 20 years later — they’re going to pack and leave?’” he said.
Just two years after the fight in Afghanistan began, the U.S. military turned much of its attention to fight another armed conflict — in Iraq.
The intent was to remove “a regime that developed and used weapons of mass destruction, that harbored and supported terrorists, committed outrageous human rights abuses, and defied the just demands of the United Nations and the world,” according to the Iraq Resolution passed in 2002 during the tenure of President George W. Bush (R).
Supervisor Mike Turner (D-Ashburn), an Air Force veteran, said he predicted in 2003 that the U.S. would be in Iraq for five years. He provided commentary on public radio that same year positing that the U.S. should return to the Powell Doctrine — a list of questions to determine if military action should be taken by the U.S.
The doctrine, which asks what the U.S. wants to accomplish through a series of questions, was named after retired General Colin Powell back in 1990, according to government records and media reports.
If another case similar to the attacks in 2001 arises, Turner said he hopes that future lawmakers will “not go blindly off to war,” but rather, incorporate the Powell Doctrine contrary to the principals of the Bush Doctrine, named after President George W. Bush, which supported preemptive war.
“We could have another 9/11,” Turner said.
“And when we do, we may have to respond with force quickly,” he said. “But when we do you better apply these … questions to your operation, so that you don’t get stuck there. Again, that’s the lesson America needs to learn.”
Supervisor Tony Buffington (R-Blue Ridge), a Marine Corps veteran, said it’s unfortunate how the U.S. was attacked in 2001 and believes the country’s response was appropriate. However, he said with the latest withdrawal some veterans are upset and question their sacrifices.
“They’re extremely upset with their government in how this has been handled and they wonder if their service mattered,” Buffington said.
“It almost makes their sacrifice seem like it was for nothing and that’s why veterans are so frustrated,” he said. “All of their efforts and everything they went through when they were there, or when they were working to support those who were there seem to have been for nothing. And in that part of it is extremely sad.”
Buffington said since the attacks of 2001, one measure that has been taken in Loudoun is creating a Vet Center Community Access Center.
Located in Leesburg, Buffington said the center opened with the support of former Congresswoman Barbara Comstock (R) in 2018. One of the areas of focus is counseling services for veterans and their families.
Brown University’s Watson Institute estimates that 30,177 active-duty personnel and veterans of the post 9/11 wars have died by suicide, significantly more than the 7,057 service members killed in post-9/11 war operations, according to its June 21 study focused on suicide rates among U.S. servicemembers and veterans of the post-9/11 wars.
Buffington urged residents to explore the services provided by the county, led by Tom Grant, program coordinator for Loudoun County Veterans. The county supervisor also started a Facebook group called Loudoun County Veterans, a page he hopes will continue to grow.
Local organizations have played huge role in the 20 years since the attacks. One of which has been the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Center recently supporting refugees from Afghanistan that fled to the United States.
Rizwan Jaka, chairman of the ADAMS Interfaith, Government, Media Committee, said the refugees have been America’s allies for the past 20 years, and its America’s responsibility to safeguard them.
Jaka said the day of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks was difficult, a time before the ADAMS Center in Sterling was constructed.
Jaka said the interfaith community gathered to pray for the victims, the families and emergency responders the night after the attacks. The interfaith community included those from Christian, Jewish and Muslim backgrounds.
But on the same night at the eventual ADAMS Center, a place of worship for Muslims in Sterling, Jaka said the center’s sign was burned down. Further, the rental space where members prayed miles from the property was also broken into and the mosque was vandalized.
The actions led to extra security for members as reports of hate crimes and intimidation increased across the country, according to Jaka. Additionally, he said other faith communities volunteered to escort those from the Muslim community out in public, for example to grocery stores.
“Loudoun County is among the best in the nation of interfaith, multi-faith, allyship in countering hate and countering bigotry,” Jaka said.
He said it was a difficult time mourning the loss of so many lives, but also dealing with the aftermath of hate crimes, intimidation and xenophobia. One key moment to combat the harassment was when the interfaith communities from Loudoun and Fairfax Counties during an overnight vigil, he said.
Government leaders on the local, state and federal levels also stood with the Muslim community, according to Jaka. In the years to followed, the ADAMS Center became one of the largest mosques not just in the area, but also the country.
The ADAMS Center is a member of the Federal of Bureau Investigation Washington Field Office’s Arab Muslim Sikh Advisory Council (AMSAC), Jaka said. Since 2002, the center has partnered with the FBI to combat hate crimes and support Muslim, Arab, Sikh and South Asian communities to address civil rights issues.