President Trump marked the 18th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks Wednesday by memorializing the nearly 3,000 Americans “stolen from us” and putting al Qaeda on notice, saying he will deploy unprecedented military power if they strike the homeland again.
Standing at the Pentagon, which was hit that day in 2001, Mr. Trump said the U.S. military is striking terrorist targets “harder than they have ever been hit before,” after peace talks to end the long-running conflict in Afghanistan fell apart.
“And that will continue,” Mr. Trump told military brass and families at the observance in Northern Virginia.
The U.S. launched a campaign against the Taliban in 2001 for harboring al Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan ahead of the attacks, sparking a long-running conflict and the killing of Osama bin Laden by a Navy SEAL team under President Obama.
“If for any reason, they come back to our country, we will go wherever they are, and use power, the likes of which the United States has never used before,” Mr. Trump said. “I’m not even talking about nuclear power. They will never have seen anything like what will happen to them. No enemy on Earth can match the overwhelming strength, skill and might of the American armed forces.”
Mr. Trump talked tough days after he scrapped a planned meeting at Camp David with Afghan government officials and Taliban leaders. He said he canceled the meetings after the Taliban claimed an attack that killed a U.S. soldier and 11 others in an apparent bid to gain “leverage” in negotiations.
“They thought they would use this attack to show strength, but actually what they showed is unrelenting weakness,” said Mr. Trump, who faced criticism for even considering a Camp David visit from Taliban leaders on the cusp of the Sept. 11 anniversary.
Four passenger planes were hijacked by al Qaeda terrorists in the 2001 attacks. Two of them crashed into the World Trade Center towers in Manhattan, a third hit the Pentagon, and the other crashed in rural Pennsylvania after its passengers battled hijackers.
“Sept. 11 is a day of mourning, a date stained by the terrorist murders of so many innocent people in New York, Arlington, and Pennsylvania,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The Kentucky Republican said America must continue to be vigilant, saying the 9-11 attack on U.S. soil awakened the country to the dangers of radical Islamic terrorism.
“Al Qaeda, its enablers, and its allies still plot against America from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Mali and beyond. ISIS persists in Iraq and Syria through an underground network of terrorists who have not given up the fight. We cannot will away these dangers. We must not leave our work undone,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer recalled traveling from Washington to his home state of New York the day after the World Trade Center towers came down, noting the “smell of death and burnt flesh in the air.”
“Looking back remains difficult even after 18 years,” he said.
Earlier Wednesday, Mr. Trump, first lady Melania Trump and members of Congress observed moments of silence at 8:46 a.m. — the minute American Airlines Flight 11 struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
Across town, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stood with lawmakers carrying small U.S. flags on the Capitol steps, as an announcer recounted the awful events of that day. Members of both parties, often riven by partisan conflict indoors, joined together in a rousing first verse of “God Bless America.”
Mr. Trump and Mrs. Trump also participated in a ceremonial wreath-laying at the Pentagon, accompanied by Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph F. Dunford Jr. and both men’s wives.
From the lectern, Mr. Trump said he was watching a business program on TV on Sept. 11, 2001, when they cut away to report that a plane had struck the World Trade Center.
The explosion kicked off a round of possible explanations before, Mr. Trump said, he saw a second plane strike the tower’s twin.
“It was then,” he said, “that I realized the world was going to change.”
⦁ Alex Swoyer contributed to this report.
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