While the U.S. was preparing to mark the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks last week, many missed the release of a striking poll conducted by the International Council on Security and Development on Afghanistan. According to the poll, only 8 percent of the Afghan men surveyed in the Kandahar and Helmand provinces – major areas of conflict between the U.S. and Taliban – said they knew of “this event which the foreigners call 9/11” after being read a three-paragraph description of the attacks.
One Afghan teacher, for example, knew that some kind of explosion had occurred but had never seen the image of the Twin Towers burning. “I think the Americans did it themselves, so they could invade Afghanistan,” he told the researchers. Even Abdul Hakim Mujahid, now the deputy chairman of the Afghan government’s High Peace Council responsible for negotiating an end to the war, does not believe al-Qaeda carried out “the unfortunate incident,” as he put it.
One-third of Afghans interviewed could not identify this photo.
According to the Wall Street Journal, not all Afghans are unaware of why the U.S. and its allies are inside their country; Afghanistan’s educated know about the attacks, as well as many living in big cities. But with such high numbers of those who don’t know, it is easy to understand how the Taliban are rallying popular support by filling the narrative vacuum with “propaganda claiming that we [the U.S.] are here to destroy Islam,” as Norine MacDonald, president of the think tank that carried out the survey, explained.
In his weekly radio and Internet address marking 9/11’s tenth anniversary, President Obama thanked “the tireless efforts of our military personnel and our intelligence, law enforcement and homeland security professionals” for America being “stronger” today, and al-Qaeda “on the path to defeat.”
Al-Qaeda may be closer to defeat than ever before, but it’s important to remember, one decade later, that the U.S. has not yet won the war. That over 90 percent of Afghan men in the country’s rural war zones have never heard of the 9/11 atrocities is a tremendously important fact that should not be overlooked. The U.S. will never win the war if it can’t win the hearts of the people. A large part of remembering those murdered on that terrible day is making sure it never happens again. In order to do so, Washington will have to focus more heavily on education initiatives than it already does to combat the Taliban’s destructive narrative.