While the state is a coveted battleground for the candidates, the low-key commemoration on the 19th anniversary of the terrorist attacks will be closed to the public, unlike previous years, because of coronavirus concerns. The president will give remarks that will be livestreamed, according to the National Park Service.
With a peace deal in Afghanistan imminent, Friday could be the last 9/11 anniversary with U.S. troops in the country where the attacks originated. Mr. Trump is moving ahead with plans to draw down more forces by Election Day.
The two candidates will be honoring the passengers on United Flight 93 who fought their suicide hijackers before the terrorists crashed the airliner into a field about 60 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. It was the only one of the four hijacked planes that didn’t reach its target, believed to be either the Capitol or the White House.
Mr. Biden initially was expected to appear in Shanksville at the same time as the president, but he ended up traveling to New York City in the morning instead for a ceremony at the World Trade Center site. He was to visit Shanksville in the afternoon, missing a joint appearance with the president.
The two candidates will meet for the first time in the fall campaign at their first scheduled debate on Sept. 29 in Cleveland. The anniversary of the terrorist attacks comes as Mr. Trump is ramping up his criticism of the Obama administration and the former vice president’s handling of radical Islamist terrorism.
The president told a North Carolina audience this week that Mr. Biden “opposed the mission to take out Osama bin Laden.”
“He opposed the killing of [Iraqi Maj. Gen. Qassem] Soleimani,” Mr. Trump said. “He oversaw the rise of ISIS. And for eight years, he couldn’t find or kill al-Baghdadi, the founder of ISIS. They looked, they couldn’t find him. I found him, and we hit him good.”
At the time of the 9/11 attacks, Mr. Biden was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He has said he was riding an Amtrak train to Washington, on the phone with his wife, as the scope of the attacks became clear.
“On a day like this, all Americans are bound together, not only in sorrow but in our resolve,” he said in a statement that day. “We are a strong nation. We have come through many difficult times together, and we will persevere in this time of tragedy as well. All of us stand with the president and support every effort to bring to justice those responsible for these despicable actions.”
Mr. Biden initially praised President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell for consolidating support from NATO countries in the U.S. response to the attacks, including an invasion of Afghanistan for harboring the al Qaeda terrorists who plotted the operation.
But by 2011, as vice president, he expressed the opinion that the Taliban in Afghanistan were “not our enemy.”
Mr. Biden also has falsely claimed that he predicted the terrorist attacks one day before they took place, on Sept. 10, 2001, in a speech at the National Press Club in Washington. In the address, he criticized the Bush administration’s spending on missile defense and said a biological attack was more likely.
“The real threat comes to this country in the hold of a ship, the belly of a plane, or smuggled into a city in the middle of the night in a vial in a backpack,” Mr. Biden said at the time.
But hours after the attacks, Mr. Biden told ABC News in an interview that he foresaw that hijacked planes could be flown into buildings.
“Literally as recently as yesterday, I spoke to the National Press Club and talked about the fact that it is just as easy to fly from National Airport into the White House as it is to, you know, do the same thing in New York,” Mr. Biden said.
Biden campaign spokespeople didn’t respond to requests Thursday about the Democrat’s memories of where he was or what he was doing at the time of the attacks.
“We wish we didn’t have to be here,” he told relatives and guests at the time. “We wish we didn’t have to commemorate any of this.”
Mr. Trump has said he witnessed the attacks on the twin towers in Manhattan from his office at Trump Tower. He said he was watching General Electric chief Jack Welch on a morning business show when the program was interrupted with news of a massive boiler fire or kitchen fire at the World Trade Center.
“Nobody really knew what happened,” Mr. Trump has said. “There was great confusion. I was looking out of a window from a building at midtown Manhattan, directly at the World Trade Center, when I saw a second plane at a tremendous speed go into the second tower. It was then that I realized the world was going to change.”
He said, “Soon after, I went down to ground zero with men who worked for me to try to help in any little way that we could.”
Last year on the anniversary, Mr. Trump spoke at the Pentagon. He had tough words for the Taliban.
“If anyone dares to strike our land, we will respond with the full measure of American power and the iron will of the American spirit,” Mr. Trump said at the time. “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, and I’m not even talking about nuclear power.”
The White House announced this week that Mr. Trump will move forward with plans to draw down U.S. forces in Afghanistan from 8,600 to 4,500 by late October. He has long questioned the cost and sacrifice of the U.S. presence there as part of his campaign pledge to halt “endless wars.”
The State Department expressed hope Thursday for success in long-awaited peace talks between the U.S.-backed Afghan government and the Taliban, after it was announced that the talks will begin Saturday.
The president said the negotiations are showing “tremendous progress.”
“I got a report this morning that there’s been nobody killed in Afghanistan since early February,” he said.
He said the reduction in forces is part of his pledge to disentangle the U.S. military from foreign deployments, many of which stem from the aftermath of 9/11.
“We’re pretty much out of Syria, we’re pretty much out of Iraq, and we’re down to the smallest force that we’ve had, will be very shortly down to that number in Afghanistan,” he said. “It’s been going on for almost 20 years, long before I got involved.”
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