Eighteen years after a jihadi attack on the Pentagon killed 184, President Trump told the crowd at a 9/11 remembrance ceremony for survivors, family members and first responders that the U.S. is striking back harder than ever before.
Hundreds of current and former Defense Department employees who were in the building on Sept. 11, 2001, along with families of the 125 killed, gathered at the Pentagon’s 9/11 memorial Wednesday morning to pay their respects. In his remarks, Trump alluded to the current situation in Afghanistan, where troops have been stationed since October 2001.
“We had peace talks scheduled a few days ago," he said of a planned clandestine meeting with senior Taliban officials. “I called them off when I learned that they had killed a great American soldier from Puerto Rico and 11 other innocent people.”
Sgt. 1st Class Elis A. Barreto Ortiz, 34, an 82nd Airborne Division soldier, was killed Thursday in an IED attack near the U.S. embassy in Kabul.
“They thought they would use this attack to show strength. But actually, what they showed is unrelenting weakness,” Trump said. "The last four days, we’ve hit our enemy harder than they have ever been hit before, and that will continue.”
U.S. Central Command chief Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie told reporters traveling with him in Afghanistan on Monday that retribution would come.
“We’re certainly not going to sit still and let them carry out some self-described race to victory,” he said. “That’s not going to happen.”
His remarks came a day after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in an appearance on ABC’s This Week, said that the U.S. had killed 1,000 members of the Taliban in the previous 10 days.
CENTCOM did not immediately return a request by Military Times for the number of missions carrier out against the Taliban over the past week. Officials from U.S. Air Forces Central Command could not immediately provide those figures.
While an agreement with the Taliban could be the key to ending the war in Afghanistan — which, along with the war in Iraq, has cost nearly 7,000 service members’ lives — it was five al-Qaida hijackers who crashed Flight 77 into the Pentagon. All 184 victims’ names were read off as part of the remembrance.
“Most of us recall exactly where we were when we first learned that our country was under attack," Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in his remarks at the Pentagon ceremony. "Some were at work, others were at home. A number of you were present in this very building when [American Airlines] Flight 77 crashed into those concrete walls.”
Officials have emphasized that any deal with the Taliban will depend on the group’s commitment to ensuring no terrorist organization is again able to use Afghanistan as a base to plan, train for and execute an attack on American soil.
“We’re here today to renew our commitment to never forget,” Chair of the Joint Chief of Staff Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford said in his remarks. “The terrorist attacks were intended to challenge our way of life and they sought to break out spirit. But their purpose was never realized. That day made us stronger, more determined, more resolved to protect our nation and that for which it stands.”
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.