As for so many people, Tuesday 11th September 2001 began for me as a fairly normal and non-descriptive day. I was working from home at the time, with the radio on in the background, when reports came through of a place crash in the USA. It was very easy to think little of it at first, but when more information came through and it turned out to be a commercial jet liner hitting one of the most iconic landmarks in the country, followed by two more incidents of the same kind and so nearly a fourth, it soon became apparent that what was unfolding was no accident.
9/11 really does go down in history as a world-changing day, and as we approach the 20th anniversary this month our thoughts turn to those who lost loved ones on that awful day, including the relatives of 412 emergency workers, who ran in to the face of danger but never made it back.
The events of that day opened our eyes to the dangers posed by radical extremism, and sadly we have had our own experiences here with 7/7 and the Manchester Arena Bombings, amongst other incidents. Although the last twenty years have seen significant changes in the way we protect our country from these threats, we must never apologise for our tolerance, our civil liberties, and our respect for the rule of law and democracy.
Of course, just a few weeks after 9/11, the UK was part of a NATO operation in Afghanistan to dismantle al-Qaeda who were responsible for the attacks, and to remove the Taliban who were giving them a base to operate. Over 150,000 of our service personnel have fought in Afghanistan, with 457 sadly losing their lives, and I believe they can be proud of the work we have done, in particular the improvement of the lives of Aghan women and girls, despite the uncertainty the country is now facing.
Many Afghans have also risked their lives to help our troops during their mission, and I am pleased that we have been able to grant refuge to so many of them over recent weeks, as security in the country has deteriorated. Our country can be proud of its record in helping those fleeing from oppression.
Whilst I recognise that British and other coalition forces cannot stay on the ground in Afghanistan forever, I also do not want to see a return to the Afghanistan of pre-2001. I therefore welcome the Prime Minister using the British Presidency of the G7 to convene an urgent meeting of fellow leaders, and we and our allies are very clear that every Afghan has the right to live in dignity, peace and security. Whatever course the country now takes, its leaders must be judged on their actions and not their words.
This article first appeared in the Halesowen & Dudley News on 9th September 2021.