Eight years ago today, the United States was at peace. The next day that all changed, when hijackers with box cutters and an extremist Islamic agenda caused the crashes of four airliners and the deaths of nearly 3,000. For those who lost loved ones because of that day, including survivors of the 33 responders to the World Trade Center who have since committed suicide, the pain is now familiar but no less potent.
This anniversary finds renewed attention focused on the resulting war designed to, as then-President Bush put it, "disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations and to attack the military capability of the Taliban regime." Bush vowed that the Taliban would "pay a price" for harboring al-Qaida and hosting its training camps. And it did, seeing its brutal five-year rule end just weeks later.
But the mission has remained unaccomplished in the years since — suffering as the United States divided its attention to include Iraq, an insurgent Taliban reclaimed some areas, and al-Qaida found a new safe haven in neighboring Pakistan.
Now, Bush's unfinished business in Afghanistan has become President Obama's deepening challenge. Smart people in both political parties are stepping up questions about what success will look like in the difficult region, and how many more troops it will take to achieve it. More troops and focus in Afghanistan have meant more casualties, including 51 U.S. troops in August and four Marines ambushed Tuesday.
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