By Gregory Katz
The Associated Press
On the day to remember the terror of 9/11, the war it spawned in Afghanistan sowed fresh divisions.
President Barack Obama, speaking under rainy skies after placing a wreath at the site of the attack on the Pentagon, called on the world to “renew our resolve against those who perpetrated this barbaric act and who plot against us still.”
But his call for an increased war effort in Afghanistan, birthplace of the 9/11 plot, is rejected by some who fear a Vietnam-style quagmire as the battle against Taliban insurgents bogs down in faraway, hostile terrain.
Even at home, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services committee warned that the U.S. has “lost the initiative” in the fight against al-Qaida. He is seeking more training for Afghan forces before committing more U.S. troops to the battle.
Such policy differences have spread across the Atlantic, where some European leaders are reluctant to embrace Obama’s call for more military help in the desperate battle to keep a resurgent Taliban from returning to power.
A poll by the German Marshall Fund of the United States found that a majority of people in 12 European countries want to see forces in Afghanistan reduced or removed altogether while a majority of U.S. citizens want to keep the troops there.
“It is creating some divisions, particularly between those who are contributing militarily and those who are not,” said Michael Cox, a specialist in trans-Atlantic relations at the London School of Economics.
What assistance is being offered, is limited.
The Spanish government offered to send 220 additional troops to Afghanistan, while in Kyrgyzstan, President Kurmanbek Bakiyev marked 9/11 by visiting a vital U.S. air base on the site of a former Soviet base. It opened two months after the attacks to help in the fight against terrorism.
“I feel that a lot of people have forgotten,” said Air Force Technical Sgt. Shawn Merchant, 33, of Ellsworth, Maine. “I would have them replay the video from that day.”
Still, in London and across Europe, wreaths were laid to honor the dead on the eighth anniversary of the attacks.
In New Zealand, firefighters gathered around a monument built from a twisted steel beam from New York’s World Trade Center.
At Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, remembrances started at dawn with more than 1,000 service members donning shorts and sneakers to run exactly 9.11 kilometers (about 5.5 miles) to commemorate the day and remember troops who have died in the fighting since.
In New York, at ground zero, anguished relatives read the names of their lost loved ones and praised troops fighting in Afghanistan.
There was a tearful, overpowering sense of loss coupled with the sobering realization that even though al-Qaida has been weakened, the attacks fostered a new, more cautious way of life and greatly heightened tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims in dozens of countries.
The years since 9/11 have seen dozens of confrontations both large and small. They range from skirmishes in French schools over allowing female Muslim students to wear traditional head scarves to lethal bombings in Britain, Spain, Indonesia, Pakistan and elsewhere. An era of mutual distrust was born that day, and lingers eight years later.
In Britain, police kept anti-Muslim protesters away from a crowd of about 300 counter protesters in the sort of street confrontation that was unheard of in the more placid days before 9/11.
In Afghanistan, where the intricate 9/11 plot was hatched, U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, who was working in the Pentagon when the plane hit, told mourners at a small ceremony on embassy grounds that the best tribute to the fallen would be to finally bring peace to that ancient land so it would never again be used as a base for terrorism.
“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,” he said.
At 5:16 p.m., the time in Afghanistan when the first of two planes hit the World Trade Center, an officer at Bagram Airfield began reading a minute-by-minute timeline of events on that day.
The base’s flag fluttered at half-staff as 200 soldiers and other military personnel sang “America the Beautiful” and the national anthem as the sun set. ♦