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The War on Terrorism

On September 11, 2001, several terrorists hijacked four passenger jets that took off from airports on the East Coast. Although one plane crashed in the Pennsylvania countryside after passengers put up a fight, three of the planes hit their targets. Two planes hit each of New York City?s World Trade Center Twin Towers, and one plowed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Both of the Twin Towers soon collapsed; whereas, the damage was less at the Pentagon. The murderers killed at least three thousand people, a total that included not just Americans but also many who were from foreign lands. The situation could have been even worse. The plane that crashed in Pennsylvania was believed to have had the White House as its target.

The World Trade Center on fire after the terrorist attacks on September 11th.
(AP Photo by Gene Boyars)

After the attacks on New York and Washington, the Bush administration took strong action that was unparalleled in American history since the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor that forced the United States into World War II. He promised a War on Terrorism and vowed to punish terrorists and the countries who supported them. It soon became evident that Osama Bin Laden and his followers, the al-Qaeda terrorist organization, were responsible for the attacks. The al-Qaeda terrorists operated from remote locations in Afghanistan. 

When Afghanistan's ruling Taliban government refused to surrender the al-Qaeda leaders, they became Bush's first target. The United States used massive air power and around-the-clock bombing against the Taliban and al-Qaeda forces. At the same time, Afghan Northern Alliance rebels attacked Taliban strongholds. The Taliban were soon driven from power. Following the Taliban's defeat came the difficult task of forming a new coalition government of Afghan tribal leaders, supported by the United States and its allies. Meanwhile, bombing continued of al-Qaeda hideouts and elite ground troops from different branches of the U.S. military forces began searching the mountainous regions of Afghanistan, looking for and either killing or capturing terrorists associated with Bin Laden. At this time, Bin Laden and other senior members of al-Qaeda have not been found.

Soon after the September 11th attacks, letters contaminated with the deadly bacteria anthrax were sent to some members of Congress and some news organizations.  A handful of people died as a result of their exposure to the contaminated letters. Many more persons had to take antibiotics to counteract possible effects of exposure and the U.S. Postal Service was severely disrupted. The perpetrators of these acts have not yet been found. These acts have caused additional fears about possible chemical or biological terrorist actions in the future.

As a result of these terrorist actions, President Bush formed the Office of Homeland Security. This office was given the responsibility to formulate ways to protect the United States from future attacks. In addition, Bush proposed that the FBI and CIA be given additional powers to deal with potential terrorists. In response to these proposals, the U.S. Congress passed the USA Patriot Act. While most Americans agreed with the need to address possible threats from terrorists, some  questioned the impact these actions would have on individual freedoms in our country.

Governor Graves also acted to protect people in Kansas. He established the Kansas Bioterrorism Coordinating Council and the Hospital Preparedness Planning Committee. Other changes include stricter security in state airports and around any likely terrorist targets such as the Capitol Building and other government buildings in Topeka.

The September 11th terrorist attacks also contributed to the national economic recession in 2001 and 2002. Consumer confidence was shaken and spending declined. Airline travel dropped substantially following the attacks as many passengers were now afraid to fly or discouraged by new security policies. The drop in air travel contributed to layoffs in the airlines and related industries.

Early in 2003 the United States attacked Iraq in a continuation of the war on terrorism. President Bush maintained that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had failed to comply with U.N. restrictions on the development of weapons of mass destruction and that the Iraqi government was also linked to the al-Qaeda terrorist movement. United States and British troops made a quick and decisive strike in Iraq. The troops encountered brief, fierce resistance as they moved swiftly inland from the northern and southern borders. By the end of April, United States had entered the capital city of Baghdad and the Iraqi military collapsed.

In May President Bush declared "the end of major, combat operations in Iraq." Saddam Hussein was captured by United States troops on December 13, 2003. Troops from numerous countries joined the United States to form a coalition to govern Iraq, attempt to establish normal, daily life in the country and to prepare Iraq for the formation of a democratic government.

During 2004 Iraqi insurgents continued to battle coalition troops, attack other Iraqis and destroy valuable resources, such as oil pipelines. In late June of 2004, the United States turned over the governance of the country back to the Iraqis. However, United States troops continue to patrol the country to maintain order and it is unclear how long our troops will have to stay in Iraq. By the end of 2008, more than 4,000 United States soldiers had died in the fighting in Iraq.

Additional Resources

bulletLearn more about the War on Terrorism from the FBI.
bulletRead more about the War on Terrorism.
bulletView the full text of the USA Patriot Act.
bulletLearn more about Kansas Homeland Security.

Study Guide Questions

  1. What actions did the United States government take in response to the September 11 terrorist acts?
  2. What steps did the United States government and the Kansas State Government take to protect citizens from further terrorists acts?
  3. What effect did the September 11 terrorist acts have on the U.S. and Kansas economy?
  4. What economic crisis occurred in the United States from 2007-2009?

Vocabulary

alleged
bankruptcy
certified
coalition
contentious
counteract
electoral college
elite
foreclosure
formulate
insurgents
mandated
perpetrators
recession
unparalleled

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