US diplomat defends Afghanistan exit at 9/11 Phoenix Park event

September 11th attacks remembered 20 years on at US ambassador’s residence

Dennis Keely of Dublin Fire Brigade and US chargé d’affaires Alexandra McKnight place a wreath at a 9/11 memorial at the US ambassador’s residence in the Phoenix Park, Dublin. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

Dennis Keely of Dublin Fire Brigade and US chargé d’affaires Alexandra McKnight place a wreath at a 9/11 memorial at the US ambassador’s residence in the Phoenix Park, Dublin. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

 

A senior American diplomat in Ireland has defended the Biden administration’s pullout from Afghanistan 20 years after the 9/11 attacks.

US chargé d’affaires Alexandra McKnight said the final withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan evoked powerful memories of the events of September 11th, 2001, which led to the US invasion of the country.

Speaking at an event in the grounds of the US ambassador’s residence in the Phoenix Park on Thursday, Ms McKnight said the “sheer scope of what had been achieved has been lost in the minute-to-minute dispatches from Kabul”.

She explained that, with “zero margin for error”, the US military had evacuated 120,000 people out of Afghanistan amid the Taliban takeover.

“As president [Joe] Biden pointed out, no nation has done this in the whole of history and this was thanks to the incredible skill, bravery and selfless courage of the US military and of our diplomats and intelligence professionals,” she said.

Four members of the US mission in Ireland had flown to Afghanistan at a “moment’s notice”, she added, while others have volunteered to go.

“These selfless stories of dedication are inspirational. They are part of a line of courageousness that goes all the way back to 9/11.”

She reiterated the words of Mr Biden that America was “far from done” with the “war on terror”.

“As has been the case throughout, our efforts will be stronger and more effective because we are unified. We are in this together,” she said.

US marines at the 9/11 memorial at the US ambassador’s residence in the Phoenix Park. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins
US marines at the 9/11 memorial at the US ambassador’s residence in the Phoenix Park. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

Ms McKnight is the most senior diplomat at the embassy until Mr Biden’s nominee Claire Cronin takes up the role of ambassador later this year, subject to Senate confirmation hearings.

Almost 3,000 people were killed in the attacks on 9/11, including 18 Irish citizens and hundreds of people of Irish descent, including firefighters and police personnel.

Day of mourning

Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern recalled that he was in a meeting with then US special envoy to Northern Ireland Richard Haass when the two planes hit New York’s Twin Towers.

Mr Ahern declared a national day of mourning after the attacks as 9/11 was “very close and very raw for the people here” given the relationship between the US and Ireland.

Dennis Keeley of Dublin Fire Brigade and former taoiseach Bertie Ahern at the event at the US ambassador’s residence in the Phoenix Park. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins
Dennis Keeley of Dublin Fire Brigade and former taoiseach Bertie Ahern at the event at the US ambassador’s residence in the Phoenix Park. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

Mr Ahern said he hoped never to see a day like that again, but the memory of 9/11 must be kept alive so that “new generations will understand the horrors of terror . . . There is always that small mindset who . . . for ideological reasons are not prepared to use political or democratic processes and want to take it out on innocent civilians.”

Dublin Fire Brigade acting chief fire officer Dennis Keeley said the risks taken by first responders on that day are “virtually incomprehensible to me – the bravery, the dedication to public service of those responders to wilfully go beyond normal expectations and ignore every sensory nerve ending and internal alarm and still move forward while others are leaving. I have no doubt that men and women who responded that day had that feeling.”

Ms McKnight and Mr Keeley laid wreathes at the 9/11 memorial, installed in 2002, in the grounds of the ambassador’s residence.

US marines performed a colour guard and the Irish and American anthems were sung by tenor Paul Byrom.