Twenty Years After 9/11: Reflections from Ambassador (Ret) Dell Dailey, Former Coordinator for Counterterrorism, U.S. Department of State.

AuthorCruickshank, Paul

CTC: 9/11 shaped your service, and you would go on to play a key role in Operation Enduring Freedom with a former West Point Superintendent describing you as "the unsung hero of Afghanistan" and "pivotal in pulling together the campaign plan." (1) You would later serve as the coordinator for counterterrorism for the State Department. Can you talk us through how that day, 9/11, was for you, the sense of purpose it created in you and your colleagues, and the ways you were able to contribute to the counterterrorism mission in the months and years that followed? And when you reflect on the last 20 years and the range of actions that have transpired across that time, what are some of the key issues, themes, or moments that stand out to you personally? What were your most memorable high and low points?

Dailey: First, I'd like to express our condolences to the families of folks who died on 9/11 in the towers and in the Pentagon and on the hillside in Pennsylvania. Our hearts go out to them. And I'd like to express our gratitude to our fallen comrades. They helped defend our nation in a unique way. But they did not come home, so we should always remember them.

On the day of 9/11, [in my capacity as JSOC commander] I was in Budapest, Hungary, for [a] quarterly full command, joint staff, no notice exercise. Our scenario was to go through multiple countries chasing about a dozen or so terrorists, and we would go through the challenges of international coordination and whatnot. That day, we went to the sixth floor of the U.S. Embassy; I was met by a young major named Scott Miller, the four-star [general] who [in July 2021] turned Afghanistan back over to Central Command. Scott immediately started briefing, and he showed us a TV shot of the first aircraft going into the tower, and right after that, I said, "Hey, wait a second, that's not part of our scenario." At that point, he showed the second one hitting, and he said this was real.

And all of a sudden, things had changed dramatically in what we were doing and how we were thinking. With the first [plane hitting], we thought it might have been accidental. But when the second one hit, we knew for sure it was real. It was some kind of terrorism. We immediately realized that we, JSOC, would be the key response force, and most importantly, we were out of position. Our critical National Response Command team was split. We had some in the United States and some in Europe. The leadership team in the United States was not at Fort Bragg. They were up in Maine doing a briefing. I agreed to cancel the exercise. We notified the EUCOM commander to get his permission and redeploy it to the States. I did that personally. Then we started a redeployment for the exercise forces. We contacted the rear command of Fort Bragg, and they moved into a combat mode for planning, obtained intelligence and found out as much as they could. For sure we, JSOC, knew we were going to be a responding force in some size, way, or shape. Because this was a deliberate, planned, intentional, and international attack. JSOC was the primary U.S. military counterterrorism force. We were at war with someone or something. In the days that followed, we found out it was al-Qa'ida, supported by the Taliban, [and] bin Ladin, and they were located in Afghanistan.

I remained in JSOC for two more years after 9/11, and we've continued to deploy and deploy rapidly troops in a global fashion in search of terrorists and supporting countries going after the terrorists. We were successful in this effort in multiple different areas, in multiple different venues. After my time in JSOC, I went to SOCOM headquarters in Tampa, and there became the deputy commander for the operational arm of SOCOM. I held that position for three years, and during that time, we built the J2, the J3, and the J5 in a very, very integrated manner, so that we'd be more focused and laterally effective in fighting globally and combating the terrorists. And this supported the combatant commanders also. We prepared, presented, and defended a global CT plan for the U.S. DoD forces. It was approved by Secretary of Defense [Donald] Rumsfeld, presented to President Bush, and then we actually started to implement it as I left.

After retiring after 36 years in the army, I served as the Coordinator for Counterterrorism for the Department of State at their CT Bureau from 2007 to 2009, working directly for Secretary [of State Condoleezza] Rice for the first 18 months [or so] and then for Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton for the next six months [or so].

At the State Department, we accomplished four significant things. First was the enhancement of a newly started regional support program for like-minded countries. We became a driving factor for a...

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