Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

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  • Theater of Operations--American
  • Global War on Terror
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  • Historical Summary
Wars & Conflicts
  • Operation Enduring Freedom
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September 11th Terrorist Attack


A bouquet lies on a bench at the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial

A bouquet lies on a bench at the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, 11 September 2019. Department of Defense photo by Lisa Ferdinando


On the morning of 11 September 2001, 19 terrorists from the Islamist extreme group al Qaeda hijacked four commercial aircraft and crashed two of them into the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center complex in New York City. A third plane crashed into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. After learning about the other attacks, passengers on the fourth hijacked plane, Flight 93, fought back, and the plane was crashed into an empty field in western Pennsylvania about 20 minutes by air from Washington, D.C. The Twin Towers ultimately collapsed, due to the damage from the impacts and subsequent fires. Nearly 3,000 people were killed from 93 different countries. Most of the fatalities were from the attacks on the World Trade Center. The Pentagon lost 184 civilians and servicemembers and 40 people were killed on Flight 93. It was the worst attack on American soil since the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941.

After the Taliban refused to turn over the mastermind of the attacks, Osama Bin Laden, Operation Enduring Freedom officially began 7 October 2001 with American and British bombing strikes against al Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan. Initially, the Taliban was removed from power and al Qaeda was seriously crippled, but allied forces continually dealt with a stubborn Taliban insurgency, infrastructure rebuilding, and corruption among the Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police, and Afghan Border Police. Bin Laden would go into hiding for nearly 10 years.

On 2 May 2011, U.S. Navy SEALs launched a nighttime raid on Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, killing the al Qaeda leader. Operation Enduring Freedom officially ended 28 December 2014, although coalition forces remained on the ground to assist with training Afghan security forces. American troops are expected to withdrawal from Afghanistan in September 2021.

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Suggested Reading

Blogs/Articles

Oral Histories

Artifact Collection

  • Terror Attack, 11 September 2001, artifacts that were at the Pentagon at the time of the attack to include a laptop, window glass, and a door sign from the Pentagon’s E-Ring
  • “We Stand By You” banner, displayed by German destroyer FGS Lutjens to USS Winston Churchill (DDG-81) following 9/11 attacks

Selected Imagery


Pentagon following the terrorists attacks on 11 September 2001

An aerial view of the damage at the Pentagon following the terrorists attacks on 11 September 2001. Photo by Air Force Tech Sgt. Cedric H. Rudisill.



A clock frozen at the time of impact

A clock, frozen at the time of impact, sat on a desk inside the Pentagon following the terrorist attack on 11 September 2001. Photo by Air Force Staff Sgt. Larry A. Simmons.



World Trade Center

Devastation at the World Trade Center site in New York City, in the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attack. National Archives identifier, 5609777.



President Bush at the Pentagon

President George W. Bush greeted rescue workers, firefighters, and military personnel, 12 September 2001, while he surveyed damage caused by the previous day’s terrorist attacks on the Pentagon. Photo by Eric Draper. Courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library.



Two Navy F/A-18 Hornets patrol the skies over Afghanistan

Two Navy F/A-18 Hornets patrol the skies over Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Both carry external fuel tanks and are armed with Paveway II laser guided GBU-16 1,000-pound bombs and AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles. In response to the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001 at the New York World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President George W. Bush initiated Operation Enduring Freedom in support of the Global War on Terrorism. National Archives identifier, 6602325.



Shanksville, Pennsylvania

The tall gray walls are the walls of the Visitor Center at the Flight 93 Memorial near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The black walkway is the Flight Path Walkway. The Flight Path Overlook is beyond the second set of walls. National Park Service photograph.



Emergency response teams responded to the Pentagon

Emergency response teams responded to the Pentagon following a terrorist attack on 11 September 2001. Photo by the FBI.



Washington, DC, skyline

Smoke and flames in the Washington, DC, skyline in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the Pentagon, 11 September 2001. Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Robert Houlihan.



World Trade Center

Devastation at the New York City’s World Trade Center in the wake of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attack. National Archives identifier, 5609766.



Shanksville, Pennsylvania

Flight 93 impact crater with debris taken early in the investigation near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Department of Justice photograph.



An American flag was among the mementos left by German citizens

An American flag was among the mementos left by German citizens who marched from Ramstein Village to Ramstein Air Base on 14 September 2001. The march was a show of support and empathy for the victims of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers and at the Pentagon. Hijackers deliberately flew civilian airliners into the buildings, killing themselves, the passengers, and thousands on the ground, 11 September 2001. National Archives identifier, 6598788.



A U.S. Navy lieutenant dropped to one knee and placed flowers on a gravesite

A U.S. Navy lieutenant dropped to one knee and placed flowers on a gravesite, while family, friends and coworkers of the 184 victims of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attack on the Pentagon, look on during a memorial service at the Arlington National Cemetery, 11 September 2003. National Archives identifier, 6647599.


Published: Thu May 13 15:30:09 EDT 2021