George W Bush defends decision to ‘protect the American people’ by going into Afghanistan after 9/11

President George W Bush has recalled how he dealt with 9/11 as events unfolded, and defended his decision to ‘protect the American people’ by invading Afghanistan in the aftermath.  

Speaking in a new documentary ‘9/11: Inside the President’s War Room’ that aired in Britain on the BBC, Bush’s comment are his first ahead of the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that took the lives of 2,996 people.

The anniversary comes after the U.S. pulled its last troops out of Afghanistan, where they were first sent in the aftermath of the attacks to dispose of the Taliban who were believed to be harbouring Al Qaida, the group responsible for 9/11.

Since the start of Bush’s ‘War or Terror’, around 2,800 U.S. military personnel have been killed in Afghanistan, along with thousands of allied troops, civilians, contractors and enemy fighters – only for the Taliban to be in control of the country 20 years on.

But the former president defended his decision to send in troops to Afghanistan following 9/11, saying it was not made out of anger, but to protect Americans. 

Speaking in a new documentary ‘9/11: Inside the President’s War Room’ (pictured) that aired in Britain on the BBC, Bush’s comment are his first ahead of the 20th anniversary of the attacks that took the lives of 2,996 people

‘I made some big decisions. Starting with the big thought of America being at war,’ the former president told the filmmakers. 

‘And those decisions were not made out of anger, they were made with a goal in mind, which was to protect the American people. I think I was right,’ he said defiantly. 

When asked whether he believed his actions after 9/11 made the world a safer place, Bush said: ‘You know, there weren’t any other attacks on America. 

‘We’ll let the historians sort all that out. Let’s just say this – I’m comfortable with the decisions I made.’

Bush – along with other members of his administration during the time of the terrorist attacks – told the broadcaster about the immediate aftermath of learning about the plane to fly and crash into the North Tower of the World Trade Centre.

‘At first I thought it was pilot error,’ Bush said of his immediate thoughts. ‘I couldn’t imagine anything other than a lousy pilot getting loose,’ he added saying he had assumed it was ‘an accident’.

At the time, the president and senior members of his administration were on their way to Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Florida to promote a new education curriculum. 

Pictured: Hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 flies toward the World Trade Center twin towers shortly before slamming into the South tower (left), as the North tower burns, following an earlier attack by a hijacked airliner in New York, U.S., September 11, 2001 (file photo)

Pictured: Hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 flies toward the World Trade Center twin towers shortly before slamming into the South tower (left), as the North tower burns, following an earlier attack by a hijacked airliner in New York, U.S., September 11, 2001 (file photo)

Pictured: US President George W. Bush speaking to Canada's Prime Minister Jean Chretien from the White House in Washington, DC, before telling the nation of the start of military strikes against the Taliban government in Afghanistan, October 8, 2001

Pictured: US President George W. Bush speaking to Canada’s Prime Minister Jean Chretien from the White House in Washington, DC, before telling the nation of the start of military strikes against the Taliban government in Afghanistan, October 8, 2001

The morning of the attacks, the CIA briefing given by Mike Morell to the president didn’t have anything out of the ordinary in it. Bush had just been for a morning run and ‘was in a very good mood,’ Morell told the BBC.

‘I got dressed and got briefed by Mike Morell,’ Bush recalled. ‘He was the primary briefer from the CIA. And you know, he had good knowledge and judgement.’

‘There was absolutely nothing in the briefing about terrorism,’ Morell said. ‘It was focused primarily on what was happening in the West Bank and Gaza’.

The briefing finished by 8.30 a.m. on September 11, and the president’s motorcade left for the school. It was then that members of the administration heard over an open radio channel that Vice President Condoleezza Rice was waiting on a secure line to talk to the president when he got to the school.

Air Fleischer, White House Press Secretary at the time, said: ‘As the motorcade pulled into the school, my pager went off. The message was an aeroplane has flown into the World Trade Center. No additional information, nothing else to report.’ 

Karl Rove, senior advisor to the president at the time, said his assistant called him from the West Wing once they arrived at the school to tell him of the attack.

U.S. President George W. Bush listens as White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card informs him of a second plane hitting the World Trade Center, while Bush was conducting a reading seminar at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, September 11, 2001

U.S. President George W. Bush listens as White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card informs him of a second plane hitting the World Trade Center, while Bush was conducting a reading seminar at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, September 11, 2001

‘[She] says we don’t know if it’s commercial, or private prop or jet. That’s all the details she had,’ Rove recalled.

‘So I went over – the president was 10 feet away or so – and I walked over and told him. And he had a quizzical look of his face, and he said: ‘Get more details’.’

President Bush told his staff to provide whatever help necessary to New York City, and entered a classroom at the school that played host to one of the most iconic moments in modern American history.

After the second attack, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card famously informed the president while he was speaking in front of a classroom full of children that ‘a second plane has hit the second tower. America is under attack.’

Bush opted to stay calm in a bid not to panic the children, but what followed was a day of constant movement for the president and his senior team. They initially set up a situation room at the school, before driving to and boarding Air Force One.

While in the air, however, word came through that the president’s aircraft was also a target. ‘There was a call into a switchboard that said ‘Angel’s next’. And Angel was the code word for Air Force Once,’ Bush told the BBC.

US Marines with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) deployed off USS Bataan's (LHD 5) Amphibious Ready Group arriving at an undisclosed location with field gear and weapons, December 19, 2001

US Marines with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) deployed off USS Bataan’s (LHD 5) Amphibious Ready Group arriving at an undisclosed location with field gear and weapons, December 19, 2001

20 years later: The XVIII Airborne Corps released an image Monday of the last U.S. soldier to leave Afghanistan – Major General Chris Donahue, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division

20 years later: The XVIII Airborne Corps released an image Monday of the last U.S. soldier to leave Afghanistan – Major General Chris Donahue, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division

This came as a surprise to the president and his security detail, as ‘Angel’ was the code word for Air Force one not known by anyone outside the administration.

Fleischer said that a shiver went through everybody close to the president. 

‘So when Air Force One’s pilot Colonel [Mark] Tillman heard about this, he posted at the base of the steps that lead up to the cockpit an air force security officer with instructions that no one is to go upstairs,’ he said.

‘Think about that. The inner sanctum of the inner sanctum and the pilot is worried that someone in the president’s circle could try and conduct an inside job and take down Air Force One.’

Dave Wilkinson, President’s Secret Service detail, recalled: ‘Once we found that the president was a target, we take no chances. We’ve taken all the weapons away, we believe, we’ve done everything we can do – but you never know.’

‘We had the agents come up to the front and stand close to the president’s cabin and make sure no one could come up to the front of the aircraft. Even your most senior White House staff members were not allowed to come up there unless the president called them to.’ 

The events of September 11, 2001 would go on to become one of the defining moments of the 21st century, the effects of which are still being felt today.

President Joe Biden on Tuesday said the US troop withdrawal from Kabul was an 'extraordinary success' and blamed Donald Trump and local soldiers for the chaos in Afghanistan

President Joe Biden on Tuesday said the US troop withdrawal from Kabul was an ‘extraordinary success’ and blamed Donald Trump and local soldiers for the chaos in Afghanistan 

On Tuesday, current President Joe Biden said he chose to end the war in Afghanistan in order to focus the nation’s defenses on other security problems, including China and Russia.

Addressing the nation from the White House on the day after the last U.S. troops left Afghanistan, ending the 20-year war, Biden said he will sharpen the focus of U.S. foreign policy by concentrating on threats such as cyberattack and the proliferation of nuclear weapon technologies.

He vowed to continue counterterrorism operations, including against any threats emanating from Afghanistan. He says this can be done with forces based outside of Afghanistan.

The president also mentioned the Islamic State extremist group’s Afghanistan affiliate, which conducted a suicide bombing at the Kabul airport on Aug. 26 that killed 13 American service members and dozens of Afghan civilians. Biden said, ‘We are not done with you yet.’   

Biden spoke passionately as he defended his actions, at times waving his arms and gripping the podium, amid intense criticism from Democrats, many Republicans and fellow world leaders about his handling of the U.S. drawdown.  

Eleven Marines, a Special Forces member and a Navy Corpsman were all killed in the ISIS-K suicide attack last Thursday as US forces frantically tried to get people on evacuation flights before the August 31 deadline. 

Thousands of local allies and at least 100 U.S. citizens are still stuck and facing threats from the Taliban. Afghans desperate to leave ran after US planes on the tarmac and two fell out of the skies to their deaths in a bid to escape the rule of the insurgents. 

The Taliban have also tightened their grip on Afghanistan and are holding mock funerals for Western troops, reportedly beating female cops and a retired three-star general has warned America’s return is ‘inevitable’. 

In August, Bush said he and former First Lady Laura Bush feel ‘deep sadness’ over the events unfolding in Afghanistan.

In a statement issued late on August 16, the former president and his wife said their ‘hearts are heavy for both the Afghan people who have suffered so much and for the Americans and NATO allies who have sacrificed so much.’ 

Bush said in July that the withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan was a 'mistake' and warned civilians were being left to be 'slaughtered' by the 'brutal' Taliban in an interview with Deutsche Welle

Bush said in July that the withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan was a ‘mistake’ and warned civilians were being left to be ‘slaughtered’ by the ‘brutal’ Taliban in an interview with Deutsche Welle

The full statement from George W. Bush and his wife Laura was issued by the former president on August 16

The full statement from George W. Bush and his wife Laura was issued by the former president

Bush had criticized the planned withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan just last month, warning that civilians would be left to be ‘slaughtered’ by the ‘brutal’ Taliban and women and girls would face ‘unspeakable harm.’ 

The former Republican president was responsible for the initial US onslaught against the Taliban when he deployed troops to Afghanistan in 2001 after the September 11 attacks on New York’s World Trade Center.

After expressing his condolences, the former president asserted his confidence that the United States Armed Forces (USAF) would be able to carry out an effective evacuation plan of the remaining Americans and Afghan refugees.

Bush and his wife went on to recognize the veterans who had served in Afghanistan, lauding their accomplishments and recognizing the wounds, both visible and invisible, suffered by those who were embroiled in the conflict.

Their statement read ‘in times like these, it can be hard to remain optimistic’, but echoed the sentiments of Dr. Sakena Yacoobi of the Afghan Institute of Learning who declared ‘the Taliban cannot crush a dream.’ 

The former president and his wife rounded off their statement by offering their support and that of the Bush Center, a complex which houses Bush’s presidential library, policy institute and the George W. Bush Foundation.

In an July interview with Deutsche Welle, Bush said: ‘It’s unbelievable how [the Afghan] society changed from the brutality of the Taliban and how all of a sudden, sadly, I’m afraid Afghan women and girls are going to suffer unspeakable harm.’ 

‘I think about all the interpreters and the people that helped not only US troops, but NATO troops and it seems like they’re just going to be left behind to be slaughtered by these very brutal people, and it breaks my heart.’ 

9/11: Inside the President’s War Room is available on BBC iPlayer by clicking here

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