Best Defense

One man’s journey from 9/11 to finishing the job in Afghanistan

Here’s a guest post by Joe Quinn, who lost his brother and best friend in the 9/11 attacks, served a couple of tours in Iraq, and is now in Afghanistan. By Joe Quinn Best Defense guest columnist Al Qaeda murdered my brother Jimmy nine years ago. Mohamed Atta and four other terrorists hijacked and crashed ...

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Here’s a guest post by Joe Quinn, who lost his brother and best friend in the 9/11 attacks, served a couple of tours in Iraq, and is now in Afghanistan.

By Joe Quinn
Best Defense guest columnist

Al Qaeda murdered my brother Jimmy nine years ago. Mohamed Atta and four other terrorists hijacked and crashed American Airlines Flight 11 into the 93rd through 99th floors of the north tower of the World Trade Center. My brother Jimmy worked on the 101st floor. Not a single remnant of my brother would be recovered.

My life came crashing down simultaneously with those towers. Images of my brother’s demise relentlessly flickered in my head. Anger swelled inside of me, not because my brother died, but because of the thought that he was scared before he perished. I wanted revenge.

Due to my emotions (and engineering classes), I barely graduated West Point in the spring of 2002. After being commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army, I had one goal: to go to Afghanistan. 

In 2003, I requested to be sent to Afghanistan. The Army sent me to Iraq. In 2007, I requested to be sent to Afghanistan again. The Army sent me to Iraq again. After President Obama announced the Afghan "Surge" in December, I knew this was my opportunity. Nine years after my brother’s death, I have finally accomplished my goal, as I am currently contributing to the fight here in Afghanistan.

I have recounted the last nine years of my life because my journey through these wars has been similar to yours. You were devastated by the events of 9/11. You wanted revenge, or at least some sort of justice, where you supported the invasion of Afghanistan. You were sidetracked by the Iraq War in 2003 and then again by the Iraq "Surge" in 2007. Nine years after 9/11, you are tired of war, but finally find your blood and treasure in Afghanistan.

My greatest fear is that we will lose the Afghan war because of the Iraq war. The American people are tired of war mostly due to the painful doldrums brought on by the Iraq campaign. Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) also siphoned resources and attention away from Afghanistan, allowing an insurgency to rise and for the U.S. to never fully realize a plan for winning. What is winning? Winning is achieving irreversible momentum towards a stable Afghanistan, free from Taliban control, which will never serve as a base for terrorism.

After nine years of neglecting the Afghan war, we finally have a plan for winning, with the right resources, the right leadership and the right programs. At the end of August, the last of the 30,000 additional U.S. troops are finally in place. Undoubtedly, these additional troops will clear and hold large swaths of Taliban strongholds.

In General Petraeus, we also have the right leadership to orchestrate the Afghan war. Saying that General Petraeus will not make a difference in Afghanistan is like saying Michael Jordan would not make a difference in Chicago after coming out of retirement in 1994. Eventually the team will improve.

The right programs in Afghanistan have only just begun. General Petraeus made an immediate impact by partnering with President Karzai to begin the Afghan Local Police (ALP) program that will leverage local Afghans to provide village-level security. The Afghan Peace and Reintegration Program (APRP) is another concept that has just been ratified, where the effects of the program will only truly be felt in the months ahead. The right resources, leadership and programs in Afghanistan have just begun. Winning the Afghan war has just begun. 

So after nine years, why are we still in Afghanistan? For me it’s still simple. The men that killed my brother on 9/11 were five of 20,000 terrorists trained by Al Qaeda in a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. The Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan will only embolden Al Qaeda even more to perpetrate terrorist attacks like on 9/11. It’s easy to forget the connection between Afghanistan and 9/11 after all this time. For me, it’s impossible to forget. Perhaps remembering is the luxury of my family’s tragedy.

In the end, I do not want revenge anymore. The truth is that the perpetrators that murdered my brother died that same day. I now have a new goal: to leave Afghanistan. To leave Afghanistan as a stable country, free from Taliban control, which will never serve as a base for terrorism.

Joe Quinn currently works in Afghanistan as a Counterinsurgency Advisor for the International Security Assistance Force’s (ISAF’s) Counterinsurgency Assistance and Advisory Team (CAAT). He graduated in May from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

 

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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