Like many Americans, Thomas Speciale remembers exactly where he was on Sept. 11, 2001, when members of the Al Qaeda terrorist group hijacked and deliberately crashed four commercial airliners. In fact, he recalls sitting only about half a mile away from the Pentagon when the building was hit in the coordinated attack. In the days after the 9/11 attacks, Mr. Speciale traveled to Manhattan and witnessed the wreckage at the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, where hijackers crashed two more airliners.
“It had a profound effect on my life,” he said in an interview with NTD News’ “Capitol Report” on Monday.
Devastating as the attacks were, Mr. Speciale also remembers a unique sense of patriotism and national unity in the days and weeks that followed. He explained that he had been in the military but had been out for a couple of years by the time of the attacks. He said he returned to military duty, joining a wave of like-minded men and women who joined in the aftermath.
“I can’t think of a time [when] we were more united,” he added.
Mr. Speciale continues to serve in the Army Reserve. On the civilian side, he has also worked as a national security contractor with the Defense Intelligence Agency and with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
While the Al Qaeda hijackers specifically hit U.S. targets on 9/11, Mr. Speciale said terrorism primarily poses a threat to other countries around the world with fewer resources to confront radical Islamic terrorism and other such ideologies. In particular, he noted both Al Qaeda and the ISIS terrorist group had taken root in the Middle East.
ISIS initially formed as an offshoot of Al Qaeda in Iraq, which itself formed after the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s government. After President Barack Obama withdrew U.S. forces from Afghanistan in 2011, ISIS officially broke with Al Qaeda and began asserting control over vast swathes of territory across Iraq and Syria. Under President Obama, U.S. forces returned to the region to help combat the terrorist group.
“Were it not for the U.S. intervention, to fight back ISIS, we would have had a Sunni Islamic caliphate that would have stretched from Damascus all the way to Baghdad, Iraq, and that would have been an even worse, you know, a worse tragedy,” he said.
Afghanistan Withdrawal and Political Division
In the 22 years since the terrorist attacks, Mr. Speciale believes the United States is safer now from the threat of terrorism, but he also feels that the United States has fallen short of its goals in the Global War on Terror and even lost ground as a result of the growing political division within the county.
“Right now our recruitment is way down because of the fact that the American people don’t feel like service in the military has the same value that it did,” he said. “And ultimately, that stems from what I believe is a ‘Cultural Revolution’ in the United States, and a lot of people’s dissatisfaction with the direction of the U.S. government. And so now we have the greatest, most patriotic Americans that are telling their children not to serve. And that’s the greatest tragedy to me.”
Mr. Speciale attributed the recruiting woes to a variety of factors, including a distrust in the current direction of the U.S. government and the overall political division within the country.
“We’re now more divided as a country than probably we have been since prior to the Civil War. And it’s tragic, and mind-boggling to me that we’ve allowed the hyperbolic rhetoric of politicians, the divisive nature of social media to essentially erase our unity, and now we’re more divided than ever,” said Mr. Speciale, who ran for the U.S. Senate in Virginia in 2020 as a Republican.
Mr. Speciale also lamented the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“When we abandoned Afghanistan, we abandoned to the battlefield the people we had sacrificed so many lives for, for all those years,” he said.
The United States invaded Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks, in an effort to hunt down Al Qaeda leaders that had used the country as a safe-haven and base of operations. The U.S. forces went on to oust the Taliban government from power shortly after invading Afghanistan, but even as the last U.S. troops were leaving the country nearly 20 years later, the U.S.-backed government was overrun by the Taliban.
Mr. Speciale said he believes the United States could confront the militant ideology of terrorism, but hasn’t seen the mission through.
“It was within reach,” Mr. Speciale said. “And, you know, our political leaders, essentially reigned in their horse at the last second when we could have crushed this ideology.”