For 20 years we have remembered and honored the brave first responders, who on September 11, 2001, selflessly ran up the towers and through the Pentagon helping people escape the collapsing inferno coming down upon them. We remember the brave passengers of United Airlines Flight 93, who selflessly gave their lives to divert the aircraft from its' intended target--the United States Capitol building--saving thousands of lives and preventing the certain catastrophe that would've ensued. The 2,977 people killed, and the more than 6,000 wounded were innocent bystanders and victims of radical Islamic beliefs, that aimed to destroy Western society. As our nation was aggrieved without provocation, our men and women in uniform responded with force and determination to hold those responsible accountable and restore human dignity and respect to nations otherwise devoid of this virtue. And so, once again, began our fight against terrorism.
This year, as we remember the brave men and women who perished on 9/11, we are also confronted with a flood of emotions and anger surrounding our unorganized withdrawal from Afghanistan. We will also remember the 13 brave warriors that we lost on August 26, 2021, as they tried to make the best out of the situation their leadership put them in. These two events, 9/11 and our withdrawal, are inextricably connected as one set the conditions for the other. As we witness the tragedies unfold on our screens, many pundits have questioned the purpose of our extended stay, others have argued we should've remained longer, and many I fear, have forgotten about our veterans and service members who poured blood, sweat and tears into Afghanistan over the last 20 years. The tragedies of these events have left permanent scars on the families and friends who lost loved ones on 9/11, as well as in the families, friends and service members who fought and died protecting our great nation from the terror network who perpetrated these heinous crimes, and ultimately altered the trajectory of the world.
As you've likely heard, there is great deal of concern for evacuating translators and other refugees from Afghanistan. American citizens were left stranded in Afghanistan, their safety left to the whims of their Taliban hosts who seemingly have prevented an orderly evacuation through force and terror. Today, we are still unsure of how many of our citizens still remain behind enemy lines. Although the situation is dire and still unfolding, history will judge the decisions made to end this era, and we pray that we never endure another terrorist attack on our soil. One thing remains certain however, the memory of 9/11 and our disjointed withdrawal from Afghanistan, will always occupy the same space in our minds, for better or worse. Regardless of how we feel about those events, we must never forget the raw, visceral, and unfiltered emotions the latter has evoked in our veterans, active-duty members, Gold Star families and survivors. Just as the first responders, family members, and friends of the victims of 9/11 mourn and honor during this time, now too, another class of warrior will be mourned.
To our first responders, families and friends of the victims of 9/11: we will never forget the horrific events of that infamous day, and we mourn your loss as a country. Although most of us will never completely understand the grief and heartbreak that you carry with you, we remain grateful for the inspirational strength and vigor you have demonstrated since that fateful day. We remain thankful to our first responders and law enforcement, who faithfully and selflessly perform their daily duties to ensure that we remain safe. Without your sacrifices, our nation would be of a different fabric.
To our veterans, service members, Gold Star families and friends--thank you. I recognize that this moment hurts for many reasons. You lost friends and family, missed birthdays and holidays, and will forever carry the scars of war. You believed and cared deeply for the mission, your Afghan partners who you trained, fought alongside of, and loved. The courage, spirit, and sacrifices you've made have much larger implications than you may realize. What you did for the last 20 years matters. The warriors our nation lost are not forgotten or lost in vain--they will forever be a part of the selfless gatekeepers who gave their lives to protect our freedom and way of life. Although you may question the investment, and the sacrifice—please don't. You etched permanent chapters in our storied history, defended our nation when she most needed it, and made an incalculable difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of Afghans. That was you. You embraced the responsibility with every step, to win battles and ensure tactical success. You did so honorably. We are honored, proud, and grateful to have people like you protecting our way of life. Warriors like you have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to honor, courage and mission accomplishment, I have no doubt that you will be ready for the challenges that await us on the horizon.
On this day of mourning, we honor the memories of the victims of 9/11 as well as those who gave their lives defending this nation. My family and I, my staff, and our nation remain committed to your success and are forever in your debt. As we close this chapter in Afghanistan, we must remain vigilant for there are those that still seek to do us harm. I am confident that our next generation of warriors will be just as devoted, competent, and proficient as the ones before them. We will never forget. God bless and God speed.