The significance of the 9/11 attacks is not lost after 20 years, especially for Special Operations Forces. Members of the SOF enterprise have been engaged in continuous combat operations for the last 20 years trying to ensure Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and other locations were not safe havens for violent extremist organizations and used to threaten the homeland. Six hundred and sixty SOF members made the ultimate sacrifice and 2,738 were wounded since that tragic day.
To commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and honor those who lost their lives that day and pay respect for the contributions made by SOF protecting the homeland, U.S. Special Operations Command hosted a week-long series of events in remembrance of the 20th Anniversary of 9/11 Sep. 7 - 10. The USSOCOM History Office and Joint Special Operations University hosted several virtual panels and forums to explore the role of Special Operations Forces over the last two decades.
There were three virtual panels with the first entitled
The 9/11 Attacks and Immediate Military Actions with former Army Corps of Engineers New York District Deputy Commander, Army Lt. Col. retired John Lock as the lead guest panelist. Lock spoke about the 9/11 attacks answering questions and sharing his experiences at ground zero after the attacks happened.
The second panel was entitled
Initial Unconventional Warfare Operations and the guest panelists were retired Army Lt. Gen. John Mulholland and retired Army Col. Mark Rosengard. Mulholland, who was then the commander of the 5th Special Forces Group, discussed how they mobilized U.S. Special Operations Forces to form Task Force Dagger and began the unconventional warfare campaign against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
The topic of the last panel entitled
Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan focused on the first large scale operation in the Global War on Terrorism fighting al Qaeda and their Taliban allies in the Shah-i-Khot Valley of Afghanistan.
This panel’s guests were retired Army Lt. Gen. Frank Kearney, former deputy commander USSOCOM, retired Navy SEAL Vice Adm. Robert Harward and retired Navy SEAL Rear Adm. Kerry Metz. Operation Anaconda was led by the 10th Mountain Division and supported by more than 400 U.S. and foreign special operations personnel. This panel discussed the initial planning, execution, and challenges of the operation.
Army Gen. Richard D. Clarke, commander, USSOCOM, and Chief Master Sgt. Gregory A. Smith, USSOCOM senior enlisted leader, sent a letter to the force praising the SOF effort and achievements during the past 20 years.
“We are inspired by the generation of brave Americans who have answered the call to serve over the last two decades – like the courageous generations before them. Many, like us, were serving that morning and approached their service with renewed dedication and resolve,” read a passage from the letter.
Additionally, the command dedicated its bi-weekly podcast – SOFcast – hosted by Green Beret Sgt. Maj. Matt Parrish and Smith to a discussion about the past 20 years of service and a candid dialog about the recent withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“We moved in one week 124,334 people, the largest humanitarian movement in the history of mankind,” Smith said. “Stop for a minute. For all the negative and everything else that is happening. Stop for a minute and think about that. And we lived through this. Stop for a minute and just recognize how many lives that were saved.”
Parrish described the death of U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Nicole Gee, one of the 13 U.S. military service members killed in the suicide attack at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport on Aug. 26.
“I don’t remember a time where there’s been such a seminal moment, literally the pictures of the people working the gates like Nicole Gee for example, a picture of her holding a baby went viral, and then she’s unfortunately killed almost immediately after,” Parrish said. “There has never been that much of a flash to bang. It punched everybody in the face.”
The historic week closed on Sep. 10 with a virtual observance ceremony hosted by Clarke and Smith with Army Brig. Gen. Marcus Evans, the last Special Operations Forces commander in Afghanistan, leading the command’s pause to remember the sacrifices and brave actions taken on Sep. 11, 2001.
“Out of tragedy, a generation rose up to answer a call. One heard by freedom-loving nations worldwide, a call that never again should our citizens live under the threat of such an attack,” Clarke said. “Many of us in this generation were already serving and we approached our service with renewed dedication. Many more raised their hands. Nearly nine out of 10 Special Operators in our enterprise today began serving after that September morning.”
“Since Oct 2001, U.S. SOF along with coalition partners in Afghanistan evolved to meet the demands of combatting terrorism to prevent another 9/11 attack. Nearly every major operation in AFG involved SOF formations under some of the most challenging conditions in the history of warfare,” Evans said. “Horse Soldiers, Rhino, Anaconda, Roberts Ridge, Red Wings, Extortion 17 are a few of the unique operations and references accrued over the last 20 years in AFG as a response to 9/11; these and others will be closely measured and studied in the years to come.”