Since 9/11, the power of the U.S. military has been felt around the world in the name of rooting out terrorism. But at what cost? From Fallujah in Iraq to tiny villages in Afghanistan and Yemen, Reveal reporter Anjali Kamat talks to three journalists about how America’s so-called war on terror has shaped an entire generation.
Anand Gopal is a foreign journalist who traveled across the Afghan countryside, meeting with Taliban commanders and trying to understand how people understood the war. He says when U.S. President George W. Bush divided the world into those who are “with us” and those who are “with the terrorists,” it was an oversimplification and had tragic consequences for Afghanistan. Within months of the invasion, the Taliban wanted to surrender, but 9/11 was fresh and the U.S. said no. Instead, the military allied with anti-Taliban warlords and incentivized them to hunt down “terrorists.” Gopal says thousands of innocent people were arrested, tortured and killed – which only galvanized the Taliban and drew more recruits to their ranks.
To many Americans, Fallujah is remembered as the site of two brutal battles where many Americans died during the invasion of Iraq. But to journalist Feurat Alani, it’s also his parents’ hometown. While American TVs filled with images of the city as a jihadist stronghold, Alani knew it was a bustling city full of regular people whose lives would be forever changed by the invasion. Alani recounts precious memories of Fallujah, like swimming in the Euphrates River with his cousins and seeing football matches with his uncles. But after the invasion, his family fell apart and the city was reduced to rubble. The football stadium turned into a cemetery, and joyful moments there became somber walks through gravestones.
Finally, journalist and filmmaker Safa Al Ahmad talks about what America’s post-9/11 wars have done to Yemen, where drone strikes became part of everyday life for civilians. Al Ahmad recounts what it felt like to ride in a pickup truck, wondering if she would be targeted as the sound of a drone buzzed overhead. She saw on the ground how the tactics of the war on terror in Yemen led to resentment and hostility among people whose lives were upended. While the 9/11 attacks happened 20 years ago, Al Ahmad says that for people in other places, bombings, airstrikes and drone attacks have never stopped. “They're still living the nightmare that people in New York lived for the day,” she says.