9/11 families back Afghan surge, but some are wary

AP News
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Posted: Nov 30, 2009 6:02 PM

Families of some of those killed in the Sept. 11 terror attacks welcome President Barack Obama's plan to deploy thousands more troops to Afghanistan as a long-overdue surge that could win the war.

"I think it's a long time coming," said Debra Burlingame, whose brother, Charles, was the pilot of the hijacked plane that crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

"My feeling is that the war in Afghanistan is an essential war," she said Monday. "This is where we must win. We cannot cede this territory back to al-Qaida."

Others were less hopeful about sending more Americans to fight a war that has gone on for so long that its connection to the terror attacks has become lost to some.

"We kind of abandoned the people in Vietnam," said Lee Ielpi, a Vietnam veteran whose firefighter son was killed on 9/11. "I'm not sure what we accomplished other than 58,000-plus people killed. I don't want to see the same thing happening in Afghanistan."

Ielpi said he hopes the administration heeds Vietnam's lessons, and has "a solid goal on where we're going, how we're going to help Afghanistan when we leave."

The president plans to announce his new Afghan war strategy, including deploying thousands more American forces to the region and laying out a path toward disengagement, in a national address Tuesday night from West Point, N.Y.

Many family members of those killed on Sept. 11 are infuriated that Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders remain at large after so many years.

"We need to continue to deny them sanctuary," said Tim Sumner, whose brother-in-law was a firefighter killed at the World Trade Center. "The same folks that conspired against us on 9/11 and continue to conspire against us are holed up in the northwest corner of Pakistan. We can't let up pressure from both sides of the border to eliminate this threat."

Hamilton Peterson, who lost his father, Donald, and stepmother, Jean Peterson, when the hijacked United Flight 93 crashed into a Pennsylvania field, said the planned surge is overdue.

"I don't see how the president could not do it. I'm a bit frustrated it's taken so long to do so," he said. "Sometimes the best decisions are the most difficult and unpopular."

Nancy Nee, whose firefighter brother, George Cain, was killed in New York, said she feels a strong bond with families of soldiers who risked their lives or were killed in overseas wars against terror.

"I hope the president fulfills the requests of the generals that are over there to finish the job," Nee said. "It would be a shame to just pull out now and have everything fall flat."

Sally Regenhard, whose son, Christian Regenhard, served in the U.S. Marine Corps and was a New York City firefighter who died in the attacks, had mixed feelings about sending thousands more soldiers.

"I don't want to see more young people killed," Regenhard said. "But I really feel that this president is in a no-win situation. I just hope and pray that this is the right move and that we can get out of this area."

Administration officials have said the president's goal is to train Afghan security forces to eventually take over from the U.S. and to disengage U.S. forces from the area. Some family members thought the timing of that strategy was tricky.

Charles Wolf, whose wife, Katherine, was killed at the trade center, said Obama should do a better job of selling the war to the American people, and that the plan should not include an exit date.

"I think it is a very dangerous thing to be telling our enemy how long we're going to be there, because they'll just play dead for a while," Wolf said.

"We should be going in there and telling them that yes, we are going to map out a strategy, and we are going to be there as long as it takes to get rid of you."

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Associated Press writer Dan Nephin in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.