Robbin Laird is an old defense hand. Today, he’s a consultant and a member of the Breaking Defense Board of Contributors, but he served as special assistant for the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency from 1979-1983 and also worked on the National Security Council for two presidents. Here’s the piece he posted on his website, Second Line of Defense about his experiences on that gorgeous early fall day. Read on! The Editor.
Early on the morning of September 11th, I had an appointment in the Pentagon with a senior Pentagon official.
I got there a bit early, and parked just outside the Defense Secretary’s office.
As I was sitting in the office, the TV was showing the story of an airliner plowing into the World Trade Center.
I asked one of the folks in the office, whether they were concerned about a similar event on the Pentagon or the White House.
The person said that “we do not know if this is simply an accident.”
As an ex-New Yorker, I was sure this was not.
I went into my meeting.
Suddenly, I felt the building rock.
It felt like an accident in the ground floor area of the Pentagon.
When buses used to come into the Pentagon directly underneath, such a crash might be possible.
But, of course, I remembered that buses were no longer coming inside.
We went outside to see what was happening.
People were running around the Pentagon, and I exited the main door to the parking lot. General Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld passed me going back into the building.
I got into my car to drive home to our house which is close to the Pentagon.
We were stopped on Interstate 395 by the police as fire trucks and related equipment rushed to the Pentagon.
As I sat in my car, I looked over to see the plane fitted inside the Pentagon.
Unfortunately, I did not have a camera with me, for much more of the plane survived the initial impact than was later reported.
When I got home, I found my wife and children more than upset by developments.
It turned out that the plane had flown low over our house on the way to strike the Pentagon. And my little girl, who was 3 at the time, kept talking about the plane which “almost hit me.”
Of course, for this generation of Arlington, Va. children, this would be a traumatic event they would never forget.
My mind went back to a similar event in France in the mid-1990s when my French wife and I were there for the holidays. In a dry run, terrorists had seized a plane to try to fly into the Eiffel Tower.
Fortunately, the French special forces had successfully killed the terrorists when they had to land and be refueled in the south of France.
Shortly after the attacks, I took a train to New York to appear on 60 Minutes to discuss the French approach to counter-terrorism.
I went to school in New York at Columbia University so knew Manhattan well. When I went to school there was no World Trade Center. As the train pulled into New York, the World Trade Center was again not there.
It was as if a generation of redefining New York through this new building had magically disappeared.
For several days after the attack on the Pentagon, we could smell the smoke and remains of the attack in our area of Arlington.
That pungent smell will linger in my mind and heart forever.
The experience is more powerful than any response to terrorism could be.
Still, when I stand to applaud American servicemen and women at games at National Park there is some sense of cloture. But not enough.
I would add that today it is important to put the response to Afghanistan into perspective and size our effort proportionately and to focus on the clear and present danger posed by peer competitors.
As Ed Timperlake put it recently:
There is a simple way to look at the complexities evolving modern warfare between technology and a nations “intangibles,” which is the human motivation to fight and win at all levels from junior troops to our Commander in Chief.
It is appropriate that everything presented in this articles need to be only one sided and US focused because all military technology, training, tactics and combat procedures are always relative in both alliance agreements and against a reactive enemy.
This article only looks at the development of a US “way of war” in an offensive role under the rubric that often considered a cliché, but very true: “the best defense is a good offense.”
Human “intangibles” that make up a nation’s fighting force have profound effects on how military technology is employed to win in any level of combat.
From the professional pride of the Marine Corps that every Marine is a rifleman to the range of combat from what was called in the American Civil War as “brisk skirmishes” to President Truman giving the go order to unleash the 1st Nuclear Age, Americans have shown the ability to fight with great courage and skill at all levels of combat.
Among the most intangible qualities of a force are those cultural factors that influence its basic fighting capabilities.
These qualities can, nevertheless be of paramount importance.
To take what is perhaps the most sensational example, consider the Kamikaze pilot.
No mere quantitate assessment of the Japanese tactical aviation force of the Second World War could have accounted for Kamikazes.
Only an assessment of cultural characteristics could have keyed analysts to the possibility.
In retrospect, we can understand that the Japanese belief in the divinity of their emperor and the cultural abhorrence of shame could allow for creating soldiers sufficiently motivated to embrace suicidal missions.
After WW II General MacArthur allowing the Japanese Emperor to stay, greatly helped remove the Bushido Code that underpinned the Kamikaze mentality.
In our current seemingly US 21st Century “forever war,” the opening engagement was a tragic misreading of the tenants of the Islamic fanatical killers who weaponized commercial aircraft.
Extinguishing the flames: The effort by firefighters to bring the fire under control captures on the morning of the attack. FBI photo released and published by Daily Mail on September 10, 2017.
Tactically, 9/11 showed the US National Command authority that previous hijack protocols had to be quickly addressed from giving them what to want, to fight them with all means available in order to stop the hijacking process.
The complex dilemma of Islamic fanatic beliefs is another “human intangible in warfare” and is currently being faced by the US and NATO combat engagement in Afghanistan.
How can the Taliban be still beating the Afghan Military which has been supported by US and NATO?
After all, the argument was made to the President that with US combat presence of sixteen years, regardless of our combat military footprint, the Taliban gained ground against the Afghan Army.
Afghanistan combat alignment maybe the test case for essentially moderate followers of Islam vs. Islamic fanatics in that religion.
As an aside like MacArthur doing the unexpected with the Japanese Emperor, President Trump is showing a willingness to negotiate with all parties that may have a way ahead to temper such a vicious war by cutting some sort of “deal.
Why not try, since Afghanistan is the current test case for sorting out all the dynamics embedded in religion and human nature?
That war is truly a work in progress.