Wed, 26 Jan 2022

The Inside Story- 9/11 Twenty Years Later

Voice of America
17 Dec 2021, 08:36 GMT+10

Transcript

The Inside Story: 9-11: Twenty Years Later (September 9, 2021 - Episode 04)

CARLA BABB, VOA Pentagon Correspondent:

Hi. I'm Carla Babb, VOA Pentagon Correspondent. We are standing steps away from where American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon at 9:37 in the morning, killing 184 people. Nearly three thousand people were killed in terrorist attacks that day. Another plane headed for the U.S. Capitol crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Two planes hit the World Trade Center towers in New York City. The crumbled Twin Towers became known as "ground zero" of the terrorist attack, changing the lives of thousands of people.

Many Americans old enough to remember the attacks know exactly where they were that day. I was in high school in North Carolina. I remember how the faculty turned the TVs on to follow what was happening, the disbelief in everyone's faces, the sadness in the hallways.

I also remember the bravery we saw, those who risked their lives to save others. Here's VOA's Anna Rice with stories of heroism from that day.

Angela Alioto, Thomas Alioto's Wife:

It was a terrible sight to see. He was all covered with white powder.

Amanda, Thomas Alioto's Daughter:

147 is his firehouse, which is what he loved and where his heart always was.

Ashley, Thomas Alioto's Daughter:

Inside his helmet he kept pictures of us.

Alyssa, Thomas Alioto's Daughter:

This was actually the last picture I took with my dad.

ANNA RICE, VOA Correspondent:

This picture snapped by an unknown photographer went viral in both the U.S. and international media. A copy of the photograph is stored at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.

Amanda, Thomas Alioto's Daughter:

This is our father here. He is kneeling down. He was working down at the pile, for months.

ANNA RICE:

After the 9-11 terrorist attacks, Alioto worked for extended periods of time at Ground Zero looking for the remains of the dead, breathing in toxic substances that took a toll on his health.

Angela Alioto, Thomas Alioto's Wife:

My husband had glass and pieces of black smoke and things in his lungs... And little by little he was taken from us.

ANNA RICE:

Doctors said he had ten years at most. He lived for eighteen.

Amanda, Thomas Alioto's Daughter:

He was a fighter, but 9/11 never left him. 9/11 became him; he would do it all over again.

ANNA RICE:

Alioto's three daughters have a hard time remembering that dreadful day. Amanda was 10, Ashley was 6 and Alyssa was only 4. Angela Alioto picked up the two older girls from school earlier than usual that day, but they didn't go home - they went to their neighbor's place. A lot of their neighbors also had family members who were firefighters.

Amanda, Thomas Alioto's Daughter:

All the moms were crying watching it on TV, so once I started seeing the TV - the fire department - I had a feeling daddy was there.

ANNA RICE:

On the morning of 9/11 Thomas Alioto was heading home after a night shift. After he learned the first plane hit the tower, he turned around and went straight to what had been the World Trade Center. He almost died under the North Tower that was collapsing to the ground - it took him a few hours to free himself from the rubble. And then he just lost track of time - it was a blur, a desperate attempt to find survivors amid the wreckage, the debris, the giant metal beams.

Angela Alioto, Thomas Alioto's Wife:

He thought he was dead. I remember him telling me that he had no feeling; he thought something was biting him, I can't explain... He was bleeding inside his boots..."

ANNA RICE:

In 2006 due to health issues Alioto had to leave his job. His only outlet now was his family.

Amanda, Thomas Alioto's Daughter:

We lived a little bit differently than other children around us. They didn't really understand... You know, our dad came home... Like, their dad came home and that was it. But our dad didn't really come home as who he was... He was a completely different person.

ANNA RICE:

Ashley and Amanda became teachers - like their mother. Alioto tried to convince Alyssa, the youngest of the three, to do the same. But she chose a career in the police force - and that made him extremely proud. Right before her graduation from the academy, Alyssa and some of her friends went to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, a tradition New York policemen observe.

Alyssa, Thomas Alioto's Daughter:

I sent him a helmet. He said, what does it say? And then he said to look for Mike Esposito, who was his best friend whom he lost that day. He had sent me a picture and I said I'd try and find that. And then he said, 'can we spend some time together tonight? I said yes.' That was December 17th, 2019 at 2 pm. That was the last time I spoke to him, because later that night he lost his battle.

ANNA RICE:

Everything in the house still reminds Angela and the girls about Alioto.

Ashley, Thomas Alioto's Daughter:

I can still smell the smoke. It makes me feel like my dad is here.

ANNA RICE:

It's the second 9/11 anniversary in their house that Alioto is not present at. A metal cross he found at Ground Zero, awards, his helmets - Alioto's daughters cherish everything that reminds them of their father. Alyssa's graduation picture has his face photoshopped on it - he died six days before the event, but in the picture, they are together. You can even hear his voice - a little recorder hidden in stuffed toys that still says the words his family heard so many times:

Thomas Alioto's recorded voice:

Alright... I love you. Bye.

ANNA RICE:

For Nina Vishneva in New York, Anna Rice, VOA News

CARLA BABB:

Following the attacks, the United States launched a war against al Qaeda --- the terrorist group who claimed responsibility and against the Taliban who ruled Afghanistan and harbored the terrorists. 20 years later, the Taliban is back in control of Afghanistan. Soldiers from 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York, were among the first to deploy to Afghanistan in 2001, and they're now among the last to return after the withdrawal.

CARLA BABB:

A homecoming nearly 10 months in the making, troops landing on American soil after multiple delays... turning in their weapons after a historic deployment.

Lt. Col. Chris Rowe, Battalion Commander:

It doesn't feel real. I was talking to somebody earlier. You almost feel like somebody's going to call you up and say, 'OK, yep, just kidding. We gotta go back. We're not done there.

CARLA BABB:

Battalion commander Lt. Col. Chris Rowe said these troops helped turn over every American base in Afghanistan... from Helmand in the south to Mazar-i-Sharif in the north, and then the military's hub, Bagram Airfield ... before finally providing security at Kabul international airport, helping evacuate more than 120,000 people while under constant threat.

Lt. Col. Chris Rowe, Battalion Commander:

Very hectic. Rivaled pretty much any deployment that I've been on, quite frankly, and we've got some good ones. But the uncertainty you speak of, it was very real.

CARLA BABB:

Uncertainty from having to rely on the Taliban, America's enemy for two decades and responsible for killing thousands of U.S. troops.

Lt. Col. Chris Rowe, Battalion Commander:

Lost guys on patrols, multiple rocket attacks at bases that I have been on with soldiers, it wasn't a good feeling.

Capt. Swasey Brown, 431 Charlie Company Commander:

We needed them. At the end of the day, they were, you know, that first kind of filter and providing us almost like the security outside to allow us to do our jobs.

CARLA BABB:

About half of these soldiers either weren't born or don't remember the terror attacks in 2001 that started the war they ended.

CARLA BABB:

The soldiers of 10th Mountain Division have felt the impact of the war on terror as much as anyone - 46 deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11/2001."

CARLA BABB:

Their mission flag now lowered, families sharing that first hug.

Wife of serviceman:

It felt like home. It felt like exactly where I wanted to be for over nine months. It was amazing!

CARLA BABB:

For some, 288 days felt like a lifetime.

Aubrey Evans:

I'm ecstatic. She was just 5 months when he left, so he's missed pretty much all of the firsts."

CARLA BABB:

A long-awaited reunion for Aubrey and Sam Evans; their daughter's smile says it all.

Nasria, American Stranded in Afghanistan:

I feel like I have to be a voice for the American citizens left behind.

CARLA BABB:

That's Nasria. She's one of the 100-200 Americans trapped in Afghanistan after American evacuation efforts ended August 30. She asked we only use her first name for her safety. She spoke exclusively with VOA,telling me that she's terrified and traumatized.

Nasria, American Stranded in Afghanistan:

There's been days where, you know, I think to myself, like, am I going to make it home? Am I going to end up living here? Am I going to end up dying here? What's going to happen?

CARLA BABB:

Twenty-five-year-old California native Nasria came to the Afghan capital in June to visit family and marry her longtime boyfriend. She and her new husband fled to the airport after the Taliban took control, but they never made it in.

Nasria, American Stranded in Afghanistan:

It was so hard to just get on a flight. There were a couple days where we had to sleep on streets. People were literally stepping over people. That's how bad it was.

CARLA BABB:

After her booked flight home was canceled amid the chaos, she reached out to the State Department for help.

Nasria, American Stranded in Afghanistan:

They told us, 'Go to a certain location. You will be picked up.' And this is from the State Department. 'You will get picked up. Go there.' And it was in the middle of the road across the airport. So, we waited an extra 12 to 13 hours with no food, no water, nothing.

Unidentified:

They're not letting us pass. They're gassing us and shoot at us. Pop of guns.

CARLA BABB:

Day and night the Taliban kept blocking her.

Nasria, American Stranded in Afghanistan:

I was, got a gun pointed to my head! Our troops were literally at the gate just waiting for us to continue walking. And they (the Taliban) had blocked us. And there was a time where I went past them and I started walking as fast as I can, and they started shooting right by my leg and told me to come back or they would shoot me. That's how it was, and I've never in my life have ever experienced anything like this. It was like the movie scene. It was like literally a movie scene.

CARLA BABB:

She says her husband, an Afghan national, even begged the Taliban to let her in the airport without him, but she refused to leave him.

Nasria, American Stranded in Afghanistan:

I was not going to leave without my husband because I knew in my heart I was never going to step foot back in Afghanistan again once I go home. And I'm pregnant, and definitely my child is going to need a father. I'm going to need a husband by my side.

CARLA BABB:

Now that the U.S. military is gone, Nasria says the Taliban are hunting Americans.

Nasria, American Stranded in Afghanistan:

And apparently, they're going door to door for now, trying to see if anybody has a blue passport.

CARLA BABB:

The State Department has told her to stay put and that they will find a way to get her out, but she gets more discouraged with each passing day.

Nasria, American Stranded in Afghanistan:

I don't even think I'm going to be able to go home. I've definitely lost all hope. If I was only 15 steps away from the airport and I was told people are going to come out of the airport to get me, what, what hope am I supposed to have now?

CARLA BABB:

She certainly is a brave young woman. We are hoping for her safety and that she and

all the Americans and Afghans trapped like her can leave Afghanistan soon.

Voice of narrator:

Well before the Taliban re-took power in Afghanistan, they had been gathering in an important resource: money. While it is impossible to know exactly how much money they have amassed, it is clear the militants have been intent on creating financial independence.

A June United Nations report estimates the military group raised 300 million to $1.6 billion annually. Where did the money come from? Much of it came from criminal activity, including opium production and drug trafficking, as well as extortion and kidnapping for ransom. Drug trafficking alone may have earned the Taliban $460 million.

According to the report, other sources of income include taxation in areas they control. Daily taxes from a Taliban checkpoint between Pul-e-Khumari and Mazar-e-Sharif alone were estimated to be substantial. The Taliban also ramped up mining operations in areas they controlled, bringing in as much as $464, million last year.

Still more money has come from donations by wealthy supporters, and a network of non-government charitable foundations. Other sources of funding are foreign governments. US officials have said for years that the Taliban have received money, weapons, and training from Russia. Analysts say the militants also received money from Pakistan, and to a lesser degree, Iran.

Now that the Taliban are largely in control of Afghanistan, they have the opportunity to raise even more money, including accessing government accounts, and through federal taxation. However, they will also incur the costs of running a government. The Afghan government spent $11 billion in 2018. 80% of that came from foreign aid. Some donors have announced they will stop sending aid, at least for now. Economists warn that a scarcity of US dollars could cause the value of the Afghan currency to fall and inflation to rise.

The Taliban are also facing a different economy than the one they presided over from 1996 to 2001. The country's GDP has nearly quintupled, and the economy has become more urbanized.

CARLA BABB:

The 9-11 attacks grounded airline flights in the United States for two days. And it forever changed the way people travel by plane. Security screening has come a long way in 20 years. VOA's Julie Taboh shows us how technology is keeping up.

JULIE TABOH, VOA Correspondent

Thomas Carter remembers the horror he felt watching planes crash into the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

Thomas Carter, TSA Federal Security Director:

To watch those events unfold before my eyes, you knew that nothing would ever be the same.

JULIE TABOH:

Carter is now a federal security director at the Transportation Security Administration, the U.S. federal agency that oversees the nation's airports. He says the mission to make airports safer has in recent years increasingly turned to technology.

Thomas Carter, TSA Federal Security Director:

Technology is a key facet of our counterterrorism mission, and it's one of our key tools.

JULIE TABOH:

That technology -- often invisible to the traveler moving through checkpoints -- can include scanners that use algorithms to analyze a suspicious item inside a bag, light waves checking liquids for explosives, and -- coming to an airport near you -- biometrics, such as facial recognition technology that can help confirm a person's identity.

The AIT, or advanced imaging technology machine, considered the workhorse of checkpoint security, scans the contours of the body using millimeter wave technology -- radio waves passing through clothing -- looking for anything unusual, such as explosives or bomb-making equipment.

Thomas Carter, TSA Federal Security Director:

If you were a suicide bomber, you would have to place that device somewhere on your person. This machine allows us to detect that.

JULIE TABOH:

Some of the latest airport security technology comes from the medical industry. The computed tomography machine works like a magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI machine, giving inspectors a 3-D view that can be rotated 360 degrees.

Thomas Carter, TSA Federal Security Director:

Which allows our officers to get an extremely high-definition, high-resolution image.

Jeffrey Price, Aviation Security Expert:

We're seeing now is better technology of things we've already been doing for the past decade or so.

JULIE TABOH

Looking to the future, Carter says there may come a day when travelers scan themselves into the checkpoint, with limited touching and mainstream use of biometrics.

Thomas Carter, TSA Federal Security Director:

That includes facial recognition, retina scanning or fingerprints.

JULIE TABOH:

The 20th anniversary of 9/11, Carter says, will be a day of remembrance, reflection and a renewal of purpose, especially as he looks to the Freedom Tower in Manhattan, built where the twin towers once stood.

Thomas Carter, TSA Federal Security Director:

We know that that represents the strength of our nation, and we know that we have a mission ahead of us to protect it.

JULIE TABOH:

Advanced technology, and extra patience from passengers worldwide, all can help in the mission to help keep air travel safe. Julie Taboh, VOA News.

CARLA BABB:

Just after the first U.S. troops set foot in Afghanistan after 9-11, a young reporter working for the American Forces Network went to interview some of the newly deployed troops. That reporter now works for us. VOA's Kane Farabaugh recently visited some of the troops he met 20 years ago for their perspectives on the service they performed and the impact it had.

KANE FARABAUGH, VOA Correspondent:

My assignment to Afghanistan in 2002 was to understand the conditions and motivations of service members who were spending their first Fourth of July holiday after 9/11 in Afghanistan, trying to rout the al-Qaida terrorist network.

Dan Millbauer, U.S. Army Veteran:

Meanwhile an air force B52 was also in the area on a planned mission to bomb suspected Taliban and Al Quida locations.

KANE FARABAUGH:

My friend and American Forces Network colleague, Staff Sergeant Dan Millbauer, accompanied me on our first experience in a combat zone.

Dan Millbauer, U.S. Army Veteran:

When you come into the country the way we did in a military aircraft under the cover of darkness to avoid being shot at and landing in a corkscrew kind of pattern, that's when it first hits you that, 'Oh yeah, this is real. We are going into harm's way.

KANE FARABAUGH:

At the time, nearly 10-thousand U.S. forces were in "harm's way," many based at Bagram Airfield which was quickly growing into one of the largest U.S. military facilities in the world.

It's where Rhonda Lawson served with a U.S. Army mobile public affairs detachment, or MPAD, which hosted us in Afghanistan. To keep U.S. troops there informed, her team produced a base newspaper and other products.

Rhonda Lawson, U.S. Army Veteran:

What I took pride in doing was telling the Army's story, telling the soldiers' story. // I wanted people to know that our soldiers were real people. Our soldiers had families. Our soldiers had feelings.

KANE FARABAUGH:

US troops also received messages from back home showing passionate support for their mission.

Rhonda Lawson, U.S. Army Veteran:

One of the cards that I got, it just said 'Kick Bin Laden's ass' on it. So, there was this sense that we needed to get revenge.

KANE FARABAUGH:

But finding Bin Laden took nearly a decade. Neither Lawson nor others we spoke to during our 2002 visit thought operations in Afghanistan would become the longest in U.S. history.

Rhonda Lawson, U.S. Army Veteran:

Desert Storm, a lot of the fighting ended in about six weeks, and I think people thought this would be quick like Desert Storm.

Dan Millbauer, U.S. Army Veteran:

A lot of us thought that any operations around 9/11 response would be temporary or quick.

KANE FARABAUGH:

As the war in Afghanistan dragged on, Millbauer returned to Afghanistan a second time in 2003 to work with a Psyop unit.

Dan Millbauer, U.S. Army Veteran:

It's really trying to strategically put out information.

KANE FARABAUGH:

Millbauer says noticed some things had changed when he returned to Bagram Airfield.

Dan Millbauer, U.S. Army Veteran:

There was more activity, more people there, more units.

KANE FARABAUGH:

And working in Afghanistan was more dangerous, says Millbauer. He vividly remembers a close call during a mission to support a remote Afghan radio station.

Dan Millbauer, U.S. Army Veteran:

I heard this whistling of an RPG coming in... it passed over my head.

KANE FARABAUGH:

No one was injured, says Millbauer. For him, the constant threat of attack didn't change his outlook on U.S. military objectives, including helping locals in have a better life.

Dan Millbauer, U.S. Army Veteran:

Some of the things we did, when I saw we, I mean coalition forces, was to teach people that kind of stuff, and provide them with clean water sources, and lots of money to improve their lives, and in that regard, I was behind that all the way.

KANE FARABAUGH:

Millbauer and Lawson were two of more than 775,000 U.S. forces who served at least one deployment to Afghanistan since 2001. More than 2,300 lost their lives. Despite the country now falling back into the hands of the Taliban, Lawson - who retired from the U.S. Army in 2017 - believes the U.S. effort was not in vain.

Rhonda Lawson, U.S. Army Veteran:

I will never consider our presence in Afghanistan a failure. I believe our country accomplished a lot.

Dan Millbauer, U.S. Army Veteran:

It's hard to say the mission might have been accomplished in total.

KANE FARABAUGH:

Millbauer, who left the military in 2007, feels the U.S. reached the point of doing all it could in Afghanistan.

Dan Millbauer, U.S. Army Veteran:

We've found and eliminated Osama Bin Laden, but it's been a few years since that // I think after 20 years, it's probably time to get out of there and let them try to take care of themselves the best they can.

KANE FARABAUGH:

Many Afghans are worried about how they will be treated by the Taliban, who too control of most of the country as US forces pulled out of Afghanistan - ending America's longest conflict. Kane Farabaugh, VOA News, Peterborough, New Hampshire.

CARLA BABB:

That's all for now on this episode of The Inside Story. For the latest news updates go to VOANews.com and stay connected @VOANews on Instagram and Facebook. Follow me on Twitter at CarlaBabbVOA. I am Carla Babb, here at the Pentagon.

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