911. A bridge to tears.

Ten years ago today I was driving over Droichead na nDeor in the shade of Muckish Mountain in Donegal when my  newfangled mobile phone rang.

My then business partner told me that planes had been flown into buildings in America.

I still remember the  difficulty in comprehending what he had said.

In the car with me was Mary Beth Bond the travel writer.


We were showing our part of Donegal to her and a group of American women in the tourism business. The tour that they wanted to bring to Donegal was part of their “Gutsy women” programme.

It was a glorious day. We had lunch on the beach at a little cove near Creeslough.  As we were passing around sandwiches and flasks the first plane had hit the north tower of the World Trade Center.

We were heading towards Ionad Cois Locha at Dunlewey when the South Tower was struck. Then the world knew that the first plane had been no terrible aviation accident.

The idea of “Gutsy women” travelling independently could not be further from the world view of the Jihadists who had taken over the four planes.

Despite there being women from all over the USA  with us that day it was the Irish tour manager, a wonderful lady called  Jill from Cork who was most directly connected to the events in Manhattan as her son was on the spot.

His apartment building was just across from the World Trade Center.  We had planned to go to Ionad Cois Locha (the Lakeside centre) in Dunlewey  as part of the day’s programme. However the café there had   satellite TV. It was in that  lovely setting that we watched the towers collapse.

Jill’s son was speaking to his father in Cork using his cell phone.   When the first tower collapsed the cell phone antennae for New York went down too. His phone went dead. Jill was using the pay phone to speak to her husband in Cork. He told her that their son’s cell phone had gone off at the moment of the tower collapsing. It would be the next day before a friend in another part of New York would send them an email to say that the son had been in touch and that he was ok.

Irish Times columnist John Waters was at the time also consultant editor of the monthly magazine Magill and he asked me to write a piece about how the USA’s intelligence community (stupid term) had nurtured radical Islam into the global terror movement that had turned on their former mentors.


I wrote the piece confident in the belief that the USA under George W Bush would blunder into a quagmire in the Hindu Kush. He was not the man his father was.

However I did not envisage the near suicidal folly of the invasion of Iraq.

It remains the biggest foreign policy mistake of any US administration in living memory.

The fabric of US and British democracy was tainted by the lies told to justify the invasion of Iraq.

The integrity of international law and the primacy of the United Nations were weakened by the failure to secure a second resolution and then proceeding anyway.

The reputation of America was sullied by the images from Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and “extra-ordinary rendition” (kidnapping across international frontiers).

The images of Private Lynndie England could not have been crafted any better by Al Qaeda to prove Bin Laden’s central point about the Crusaders.

Like Saddam Hussein Osama Bin Laden had once been useful to the USA.  Previous US presidents had used them to attack their enemies.

Osama Bin Laden was a good guy when he was killing Russian infidels in Afghanistan just as Saddam was useful to inflict damage on revolutionary Iran after the fall of the Shah.

Both men once allies of the US became  America’s enemies.

A decade on from 911 Bin laden is dead, but his warped fantasy is not.

His grim world view is alive in many young minds across the Islamic world.

There is a waiting list to be a suicide bomber in Afghan cities like Kandahar.

A waiting list to be a suicide bomber.

The US military privately concede that they are facing strategic defeat in North eastern Afghanistan where it borders with the semi-autonomous tribal area of Northern Pakistan.

The tribes there care little where powerful foreigners drew lines on maps.

I stated that the USA would stumble into an Islamic Vietnam. There are few in the Pentagon who view the war in Afghanistan is anything other than a quagmire.

The operation to kill Bin laden himself is a model of what should have been done in the aftermath of 911.

Good intelligence work and a light foot print of Special Forces. Locate, strike and leave.

The ultimate victory over Bin Laden’s global project will not to destroy the organisation he created, but to destroy the belief system of radicalised Wahhabis.

In the past ten years almost everything that one could conceive of as an own goal in the war against Bin Laden and his comrades has been done. As  well as the human and physical damage inflicted that day Al Qaeda  startled an inept President and a Machiavellian Vice President to severely damage the US constitution. The US Patriot Act remains Bin Laden’s most enduring blow to the America he hated.

Bin Laden’s organisation has been decimated by the response of the US intelligence services.

However the Al Qaeda “franchise” is more now sellable than ever among many young   men in Mosques around the world. There is no shortage of recruits many of them instructed on the internet.

This is a reimagining of the Caliphate in cyberspace.

The iJihad as a downloadable App.

The new director of the CIA David Petraeus when he was a General fighting the war in Iraq was fond of the term “taking the human terrain”.

To defeat an insurgent enemy the conventional force must win people over who are trying to kill you or who support the people trying to kill you.

It worked to an extent in the Sunni Triangle. It isn’t working in Afghanistan.

As I wrote in Magill the USA isn’t up against an organisation it is up against a belief system.

Until that world view dies then America and all of us in the west will have an implacable enemy whether we like it or not.

Droichead na nDeor is so named because it is where people parted in the old days in this Donegal parish. Those that were leaving for good walked on towards Derry and the boat to often permanent exile.  Those who were remaining in Ireland turned back and headed home towards  Falcarragh and Gortahork. It is the bridge where tears were shed. That day was a day of tears for thousands in the USA and in the decade since the stupidity and hubris of those in charge of the most powerful nation on the planet has meant that the tears continue to be shed along with an ocean of blood.

This anniversary is not a happy one for we are still trying to find our way out of an evil man’s landscape.

My thoughts  on this anniversary are with all of those who lost someone on that awful day and in the carnage that has followed.

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