By Donna Miles
WASHINGTON, Oct. 6, 2006 – Five years ago tomorrow, America was still stinging from the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks as it began striking back in the global war on terrorism.
President Bush appeared on national television to inform the American people he'd unleashed U.S. military might against the enemy. Land-based bombers and Navy strike aircraft from carriers launched Operation Enduring Freedom shortly after 12:30 a.m. Eastern time on Oct. 7, 2001, attacking al Qaeda training camps and Taliban military bases in Afghanistan. In addition, U.S. and British ships and submarines launched about 50 Tomahawk missiles.
Bush ordered the air strikes after the Taliban rejected U.S. demands to close terrorist training camps and hand over al Qaeda leaders operating in their midst. "None of these demands were met," he said during his address. "And now, the Taliban will pay a price."
The coalition focused its attacks on sites used to recruit and train terrorists and help them communicate, aiming to defeat al Qaeda and the Taliban regime that harbored them and to prevent Afghanistan from ever reestablishing itself as a terrorist sanctuary.
Bush warned that the military action there would be just one front in a long, ongoing attack against terrorism. "Today, we focus on Afghanistan, but the battle is broader," he said.
In a message to the Defense Department later that day, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld emphasized that the war on terror isn't a mission the American people went looking for. "Rather, it was thrust upon us," he said. "We take these actions in self-defense. We take them in deliberate response to the acts of war directed against the American people."
Five years after coalition forces entered Afghanistan, U.S. officials measure progress in three major ways:
-- Al Qaeda and terrorist safe havens are gone;
-- The Taliban was removed from power; and
-- Afghanistan has a democratic government that sets an example for other countries in the region.
Last month, Bush marked the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks by noting headway made against terrorists and those who harbor or support them. "We helped drive the Taliban from power in Afghanistan," he said during a Sept. 11, 2006, address to the nation. "We put al Qaeda on the run and killed or captured most of those who planned the Sept. 11 attacks, including the man believed to be the mastermind, Khalid Sheik Mohammed."
While Osama bin Laden and other terrorists remain in hiding, Bush said, the United States' message to them is clear: "No matter how long it takes, America will find you, and we will bring you to justice."
Meanwhile, the United States continues to promote what Bush calls an equally important of the terror fight: setting conditions that prevent Afghanistan and other nations around the world from serving as safe havens for terrorism. And the best way to do that, the president said, is to promote democracy.
Afghanistan now has a constitution and a democratically elected president, parliament and provincial councils, voted into power by 8.5 million Afghans. Last week, as Bush hosted Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the White House, he praised the Afghan leader as solid partner in the war on terror whose example is helping stabilize the region.
As the United States and its coalition partners help bolster this new democracy, they're also helping ensure Afghanistan's security forces have the capability to defend their new government. The Afghan National Army is now 30,000 strong and the 43,000-member Afghan National Police continue to take shape.
Twenty-three provincial reconstruction teams operating throughout the country are also helping improve the Afghan people's quality of life and extending the national government's reach.
Bush acknowledged these and other achievements made in the terror war during the Sept. 11 anniversary last month, reiterating the call he made five years ago as he announced the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom. He reminded the nation that the terror war won't be fast or easy, and he called on Americans to unite as they face the challenges still ahead.
"If we do not defeat these enemies now, we will leave our children to face a Middle East overrun by terrorist states and radical dictators armed with nuclear weapons," he said.
"Our nation has endured trials, and we face a difficult road ahead," he said. "Winning this war will require the determined efforts of a unified country. So we must put aside our differences and work together to meet the test that history has given us. We will defeat our enemies; we will protect our people; and we will lead the 21st century into a shining age of human liberty."