September 11 Commemoration Ceremony at U.S. Embassy Kabul, Afghanistan

Karl W. Eikenberry
U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Dr. Rangin Spanta
Kabul, Afghanistan
September 11, 2009

Ambassador Eikenberry: Good afternoon. Thank you all for coming. We are especially honored to be joined by Minister of Foreign Affairs Spanta, whose presence at this ceremony symbolizes the enduring partnership formed between our two nations since the September 11 terrorist attacks. Thank you for coming, Minister Spanta.

We gather today to remember the victims of the September 11 attacks--the nearly 3,000 men, women and children who perished in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania eight years ago.

We have assembled now because it was at this time--5:16 in the afternoon in Kabul--when the first hijacked plane struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Seventeen minutes later, as we all remember, a second jet hit the South Tower, a third flew into the Pentagon, and a fourth, owing to the bravery of its passengers and crew, crashed short of its target in a Pennsylvania field.
We can only hope that the passage of time and grace of God has eased the grief of all of those who lost loved ones, friends and colleagues on that terrible day.

As a country we cannot let the passing years dull our memories of what happened.

In my own case, I was in my third floor office in the outer ring of the Pentagon, in the same section of the building where the plane struck that morning. I heard and felt the impact and knew that something serious was wrong. I had no idea that an airplane had entered the Pentagon almost directly underneath me.

I was among the fortunate. Two doors down, the plane's tail had sliced through the floor, killing two of my colleagues. Another was trapped in office and needed several of us to break down the door to get him out. Smoke and fire began filling the corridors as we made our way out of the building, the floor buckling under our feet. Once outside, it proved impossible to call my wife, Ching, to tell her I was alive because cell phones weren't working. Five hours later, she and I had an emotional reunion on our doorstep at Fort Belvoir.

The plot, as we all soon discovered, originated in Afghanistan, in the twisted minds of a small group of non-Afghans who lived and trained here with the support of the Taliban.

In his speech in Cairo, President Obama said of the 9-11 attacks: "The victims were innocent men, women and children from America and many other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody. And yet Al Qaeda chose to ruthlessly murder these people, claimed credit for the attack, and even now states their determination to kill on a massive scale."

Two days before the September 11, al Qaeda operatives also assassinated Ahmed Shah Massoud, martyring an Afghan leader who stood against their intolerance and oppression. We also remember him and what he symbolized here today. Many others--Afghans, Americans and men and women of other countries--have died in the years since 2001 to prevent future 9-11s in Afghanistan and future 9-11s elsewhere.

This year, President Obama has declared September 11 to be a National Day of Service and Remembrance. He has called on Americans to recommit themselves in the same spirit of unity and compassion they displayed after September 11 to the many challenges we still face as a country, including the war in Afghanistan.

The greatest tribute possible to the men, women and children who died on September 11 and in the years since would be for Afghanistan, with our help and the help of the rest of the international community, to achieve the lasting stability and peace that has eluded it for decades.

This is what we strive toward every day in this mission--an Afghanistan that can never again be used by violent extremists to plot attacks against Americans and other citizens of the world. It is what Afghans of goodwill seek as well.
Let us do everything we can to make this fitting tribute to the 9-11 victims a reality.

Thank you. I would now like to invite Foreign Minister Spanta to the microphone.

Foreign Minister Spanta: Excellency Ambassador Eikenberry, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a matter of utmost honor for me to have the opportunity to commemorate the 8th anniversary of this tragic day of September 11th at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

As a nation that has endured three decades of violence and suffering, we Afghans can easily identify with the pain and sorrow of the American people. That unforgettable day bounded Afghan and American people as victims of one common enemy.

9/11, which saw the cold-blooded murder of over three thousand innocent souls from more than 90 nations, has transformed many nations and individuals, including Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has been transformed from a safe haven for international terrorism and being ruled by a totalitarian ideology to an active and important partner of the international community’s struggle against terrorism and a young and emerging democracy.

Thanks to the sacrifices of American people, particularly its courageous soldiers, Afghanistan and the United States have now forged a strategic partnership.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The 8th anniversary of 9/11 has coincided with the 70th anniversary of the Second World War. I can see many similarities between these two global struggles. As with the Third Reich and its totalitarian ideology, al Qaeda and Talibanization equally threaten the world’s peace and stability.

As with the appeasement, isolationist and defeatist tendencies of Europe prior to the Second World War, unfortunately, there are voices who advocate retreat, disengagement and submission.

As with the Second World War, the U.S.’s leadership and stance will determine the fate of our global struggle against the evils of terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism. This struggle is for the soul of the Islamic world. Our success or failure in Afghanistan will make all the difference to the outcome of this global struggle.

I have full faith and confidence in the U.S. to remain steadfast amid growing difficulties and doubts. As with the Second World War, in which the U.S. proved to the world that the “U.S. is indeed the great arsenal of democracy,” in the worlds of President Roosevelt, as an Afghan democrat, I am absolutely sure that the U.S. will not abandon our young and emerging democracy.

As with Germany and Japan, a stable, prosperous, progressive and democratic Afghanistan can emerge with the right strategy, adequate resources and, more importantly, patience and steadfastness. Such an Afghanistan will be an inspiring example for the Islamic world and a catalyst for regional cooperation.

Ambassador Eikenberry,  Allow me to conclude my remarks with another quotation from President Roosevelt from his historic speech:

“We have no excuse for defeatism. We have every good reason for hope, hope for peace, hope for the defense of our civilization and for the building of a better civilization in the future.”