After the 2001 attacks, the United States made national security a top priority. It strengthened and reorganized its intelligence services and passed new counter terrorism laws. In the United States and elsewhere, rigorous security measures were set up at airports and public buildings. The new security measures were costly, but many felt the expense was justified to ensure safety.
Governments cooperated to track the flow of money to terrorist groups with the goal of cutting off funds and limiting their activities. The United States and the European Union shared bank and credit card data. Other nations coordinated intelligence about terrorist groups, which helped officials identify individuals and targets they planned to attack.
From the start of the “war of terror,” critics questioned the impact of the massive security programs. For example, the National Security Agency (NSA) was given broader powers to monitor telephone and Internet communications. Some claimed that governments were using terrorism as an excuse to repress opposition groups or to increase their power. But others felt that the threat was serious enough to justify extreme measures.
The issue exploded publicly after an American computer specialist leaked stolen information about Internet and telephone surveillance. The leaked data showed that the U.S. had not only collected data that violated privacy laws at home but also had spied on its allies overseas. The vast extent of spying raised troubling issues about balancing the right to privacy against the need for security.
Almost 10 years after the September 11 attacks, U.S. forces found and killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
As part of its “war on terror,” the United States made it a priority to find and punish the organizers of the 2001 attacks. Osama bin Laden was based in Afghanistan. The government of Afghanistan, an extreme Islamic fundamentalist group called the Taliban, refused U.S. demands to surrender the terrorists. The United States then formed a coalition of nations to invade Afghanistan.
In 2002, with the help of Afghan warlords, American and allied forces overthrew the Taliban. Bin Laden and many Taliban leaders escaped capture for many years. Finally, in May 2011, U.S. military and C.I.A. operatives located bin Laden's compound in Pakistan and killed Bin Laden. Al Qaeda survived, but in a more fragmented form.
Coalition forces helped Afghans write a new constitution and hold elections. The new government lifted many harsh Taliban laws, including those against women. From hideouts along the Pakistan border, however, Taliban fighters battled the new Afghan government and its Western allies. Many Pakistanis, including some in official positions, supported and protected these fighters. Since the United States and Pakistan are allies, this caused problems between the two countries.
Even as fighting continued, NATO-led forces ended combat missions in 2014. Some remained to train Afghan troops forces, but the future of Afghanistan remains uncertain.
In 2003, President Bush urged Congress to agree to an invasion of Iraq, citing intelligence reports that said Iraq was secretly producing WMDs. The Bush administration also suggested that Iraq was involved in the 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States. The war was bitterly debated among Americans and around the world, because no WMDs were found after the U.S. invasion. Many critics also argued that U.S. forces should have remained focused on the war in Afghanistan, which had proven ties to Al Qaeda.
In 2011, President Barack Obama announced the final troop withdrawal from combat mission in Iraq, leaving the Iraqi government and security forces to maintain the peace. However, as the Al Qaeda breakaway group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) seized parts of Iraq in 2014, Americans began to debate renewed military action.