Our government deserves plaudits for preventing another attack

We haven’t been “just lucky.”

Luck always plays some part in our lives, but those who attribute the absence of terror attacks within the United States since 9/11 to luck are wrong. They are ignoring the tireless and often heroic work done by hundreds of thousands on the front lines in the often secret and never-ending struggle against terrorism.

We are safer, first and foremost, thanks to those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many Americans question why we ever went into Iraq. Many feel we ought to get out of Afghanistan now. But there is no questioning the job our troops have done.

They have turned a seemingly hopeless quagmire in Iraq into an ongoing transfer of security responsibilities to Iraqi security forces. Our agreement with the Iraqi government specifically states that all United States forces will withdraw from Iraq by Dec. 31.

The job of our troops in Afghanistan was made more difficult after we had essentially beaten the Taliban in 2003. Because we pulled out most of our troops and sent them to Iraq, we allowed the Taliban to regroup and get stronger. Whatever your opinion about our presence in Afghanistan, the quality of our armed services there has been and is superb. Our slow progress or lack of it has been caused by the incredibly inept Karzai government, widespread corruption and the inability or the lack of will of the Pakistani Army to control the Taliban in the tribal areas along the Afghan border.

In my three trips to Afghanistan, I met with a lot of others who deserve credit for keeping us safe from terrorism these past 10 years. I met agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency who fight a largely unreported war against drug dealers in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, denying the Taliban its most important source of funds. I met FBI agents who were teaching the Afghan police how to find and prosecute corrupt businessmen and politicians. I met employees of the Agency for International Development and the Department of Agriculture who were working in the unsecured countryside to help Afghans create jobs, learn better methods of farming, and build schools and infrastructure to reduce the unemployment that feeds the Taliban.

Operating in the shadows are our intelligence heroes, mostly from the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Agency. Sadly, you hear about them only when the news is bad — when a terrorist bomber killed seven CIA agents, for instance. But they do vital work around the world to keep the terrorists off balance and make their long-term planning impossible.

There are experts in the Treasury Department who use a vast array of methods to close down funding for terrorists and make it virtually impossible for them to work with foreign governments. State Department employees, some of them in dangerous war zones, supplement our military forces with diplomatic activity that is equally important in our efforts to stabilize and strengthen the Afghan government. Here at home, employees of the Homeland Security Department work every day with all levels of law enforcement.

Much of the media reporting on last year’s attempted Times Square bombing or the Christmas Day 2009 airline bomb plot concluded that we were lucky neither terrorist was successful. But the fact that both were inept can be traced to their lack of training. We have made it virtually impossible for any terrorist training base to operate for very long. We have made it incredibly difficult for terrorists to communicate the way the 9/11 conspirators did. We have disrupted the kind of financial networks that are needed to launch more sophisticated operations.

It is popular in some quarters to denigrate government workers. The next time you hear someone do that, point out that the major reason we can live our lives largely secure from terrorists is a direct result of the hard, often dangerous work carried on by United States federal employees. We owe them an incredible debt of gratitude.

Today, Sept. 11, 2011, is a good day to thank them all.

Published at Delaware Online