Interview with Thomas Lennartz (MEOSA/SWIAC) about the lessons from 9 11: “The saying about the “Cemetery of the empires” is a bit too bold and cheap for me”

Interview with Thomas Lennartz (MEOSA/SWIAC) about the lessons from 9 11: “The saying about the “Cemetery of the empires” is a bit too bold and cheap for me”

Global Review had the honor and opportunity to interview Thomas Lennartz, Director (CO) of Middle East and Oriental Security Analysts and of the Special Warfare Intelligence and Analysis Center. Middle East and Oriental Security Analysts conducts security policy studies and provides analyzes with a focus on the Middle East, Central Asia, North Africa and Islamic-oriented countries and societies worldwide. Your research results and analyzes are available to GOs, NGOs as well as industry and trade in the states of NATO, EU and West. Middle East and Oriental Security Analysts is committed to the Atlantic idea.

Global Review:Mr. Lennartz, how did you experience 9/11?  Where have you been at that day? Did you know where this attack came from as the USA supported Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaida and other Islamists against communism and the Sovjet Union in Afghanistan and the Greater Middlea East and it became under the Clinton administration a source of threat after the USS Cole atackt. Bin- Laden´s activities in Sudan and bombing of the US embassy and the planned attack on the World Trade Towers by a blind Islamist sheik. Did all this come by surprise as even the Taliban warned US officilas that Al Qiada planned an attack against the USA?

Lennartz: 9/11 will stay in my mind not only because of the sheer scale of the attack, but because for me this event will be inextricably linked to the birth of my twin sons three days earlier. When the first news got through, I was on my way to see my family.

9/11 was a turning point in the perception and handling of Islamist terrorism. But it wasn’t the beginning. If one wants to uncover the beginnings of Islamist Jihadism, one has to go back at least to the defeat of the Arab armies against Israel in 1967. That was an important milestone. The peace treaty between Egypt and Israel in 1979, the subsequent assassination of Egypt’s President Anwar al-Sadat, and the attack by the Soviet army on Afghanistan in 1979 were further factors.

Religiously disguised groups began to form more and more with the aim of defending Islam against the “enemies of God”.

That was a development that was misjudged for a long time. The Afghan mujahideen were apostrophized as “freedom fighters” in the 1980s and equipped with Saudi money and American weapons because they fought the Soviet army.

A completely wrong assessment of the situation by the US secret services, which in my opinion was based on a lack of cultural competence, which was also shown in dealing with the Iranian mullahs and ultimately led to the occupation of the US embassy in Tehran.

Even short-term warning signals such as Jihadist activities in Sudan, the attack on the US embassy and the planned first attack on the World Trade Center by Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman were not recognized in their context, but rather dismissed as the “popular” individual cases for too long.

Global Review: Many critics say the USA and NATO should never get involved in Afghanistan as already Homer Lea said that “Afghanistan is the graveyard of all empires”, be it Great Britain or the Sovjet Union. Was the goal of Al Qaida to get the USA drawn in a Afghanistan quagmire which would dissolve its Pax Americana? Did they succeed?Was there alternative that a US president would do nothing and not react or that the reaction should have been not a war, but a special operation by Seals or whatever like the USA did against Osma Bin Laden in Afghanistan? Could a simple “police” operation been the answer?

Lennartz: Well, the saying about the “cemetery of the empires” is a bit too bold and cheap for me. It relates largely to the British campaigns in Afghanistan in the 19th century. In contrast to the first Anglo-Afghan war, which ended in the annihilation of a force made up from the regular British army and contingents of the East India Company due to a strategic misjudgment by the commander General Elphinstone, the second Anglo-Afghan war was quite successful for the British.

The problem is that the country – also from the point of view of its local rulers – can hardly be completely ruled due to its geography. Central power has always been limited to the control of urban centers and overland routes and passes. The rest was regulated through contracts with the tribal leaders and village maliks, which were generously provided with subsidies. If this did not happen, there was an uprising.

As for your question whether al-Qaeda wanted to “lure” the US into Afghanistan, I personally would negate that. Al-Qaeda was originally founded in Peshawar as a mujahideen recruiting organization for Afghan jihad located in Afghanistan by the US services after 9/11.

In my opinion, the entire Afghanistan mission suffers from the fact that it began as a punitive expedition and then ended in a State-Building process that was started with a lot of goodwill, but without checking whether Afghan society was willing to support it.

A “simple” police operation would certainly have been more successful, but let’s become clear about what it looks like: Break in, destroy as much and, as it is sometimes expressed, “neutralize” as much as possible or necessary and then, leaving behind smoking debris, out, would hardly be for sale politically these days.

Global Review: The world was united with the USA after 9 11, even calling for unlimited solidarity. However, the USA didn´t limit the War on Terror on Afghanistan, but then started a campaign against the Axis of Evil and started the Iraq war 2003. Conspiracy theorist said that 9 11 was an insider job an just a pretext for a new world order. ,Made it happen on purpose (MIHOP) or Let it happen on purpose(LIHOP) , just to create a new world order in the Greater Middle East and the world  which was not limited on a Afghanistan war. Many supporters of Trump have this theory and use it as argument against the “globalists “and the “international interventionists”. Because of this the West split, Rumsfeld declared a New and an Old Europe. Do you think if the US foreign policy at that time would have concentrated on Afghanistan, not starting the Iraq war and containing China, the world would look different today?

Lennartz: I ask for your understanding that I have made it my rule not to respond to conspiracy myths and their followers.

The second Iraq war was started due to false intelligence reports again. Whether President Bush used the false information about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction in order to be able to start the war at all, for me it also falls within the realm of the above conspiracy myths.

What we know for sure is that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction at the time of the Iranian-Iraqi war and used them both against the Iranian opponent and against his own people. When the US invaded Iraq, such weapons were no longer found.

It is also assured that Sddam Hussein was a criminal and murderer who committed crimes against humanity and his own people and who was brought to justice by the second Iraq war and the USA.

We should limit ourselves to these established facts when considering the second Iraq war.

Whether and how the world would have developed under changed conditions, I consider idle speculation. One can only say with certainty that there is no vacuum, if one actor does not appear, others come.

Global Review: How do you perceive the goals about Afghanistan since the Petersberg Conference and the development afterwards.Where there different phases in the Afghnaistan war-militarilly and politically? Was democracy ,women´s rightsand well drilling not the wrong approach in comparison with a stability approach? Was it not just a big lie to tell the Western audience that the NATO troops were just drilling wells and not really fighting a war against the rising Islamists?

Lennnartz: As I have already explained, the mission in Afghanistan began as a pure combat mission and has mutated into a combat mission with State Building.

Different phases are very difficult to recognize, of course there were phases of more or less intense fighting, phases in which the Taliban withdrew and phases in which they increasingly appeared on the stage again.

Whether someone told the Western audience that the troops of the Western coalition were only drilling wells or building schools for girls is also not not recognizable to me.

Improving local living conditions is not only an essential part of the State Building process, but also of deradicalization and information strategies. In this respect, it is part of psychological warfare and is directly linked to the actual battle.

As we are currently seeing in Afghanistan, the fight against Islamism and Jihadism is currently very difficult to win militarily and politically with conventional means. The crux of the matter is the fact that you have to win people’s minds.

Global Review. After 20 years of war , NATO withdraws, but Indian general Asthana thinks: “President Biden will withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan by or before the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that first drew the United States into its longest war, thus keeping remaining U.S. forces in the country beyond the May 1 exit deadline. US withdrawal will embolden Taliban, which already controls over two third territory to stake claim for governing the country. Taliban thus claims to construct an inclusive and comprehensive Islamic system of governance that encompasses all spheres of life. Their promise of renouncing support to al-Qaeda and fighting ISIS seems unrealistic, because ISKP, AQIS and Haqqani network continue with frequent attacks on Afghan security forces, civilians including minorities, with no visible reluctance from Taliban. Tired of combat fatigue, it is certain that US troops will withdraw, ceding strategic space to others, but it is unlikely that this Peace Deal will work. US pull back will thus leave stronger Taliban, growing IS, emerging AQIS and suffering population of Afghanistan.” Means: there will be no peace, just a civil war and the Taliban as major force. As NATO cannot guarantee any other outcome anymore, wouldn´t it be a solution to align the secular forces and the other ethnic warlords and to create a Northern Afghanistan liberated zone as military forest and potential roll back option against the Taliban and support them with economic and military aid?

Lennartz: You don’t have to be a prophet to confirm the Indian general’s statement.

However, the Taliban will not be so stupid to attack the withdrawing Western troops in a big way and engage them in fighting. That would end the planned withdrawal immediately.

What is sure is that the Taliban will gain strength and the possibility of reestablishing the “Islamic Emirate Afghanistan” is quite realistic. Many Afghans would welcome this anyway, since the Taliban emerged from the Pashtun majority and have strong support there. The accompanying calming of the internal security situation in the country would also help to reconcile the Afghans with a regime change. We have to realize that a Western-style democracy is alien to the Afghan people.

Analysts are currently drawing four different scenarios for Afghanistan after the Western coalition has withdrawn:

            A quick collapse of the current government

            Consolidation of the strategic situation by the government

            A stalemate with a resulting permanent conflict

            A withdrawal of government troops to a few safe areas and defense there

In any case, three things seem certain to me. After the withdrawal of Western troops, the Taliban will launch a major offensive, Islamist terrorist groups will try to regain a foothold in Afghanistan and other global and local players will try to fill the vacuum left by the West.

Global Review: In Germany nobody is speaking about the Afghanistan war too loudly and if, then as a looser mission nobody should repeat. However, Germany resisted the Iraq war 2003 and the NATO war in Lybia as it was clear that would have disastrous consequences for the Greater Middle East and Europe. However, the German Bundeswehr assisted in a very successful mission of the anti-IS coalition, trains Iraqi military as it also supports the G5 Sahel initiantive. But there are some politicans and military who demand “more responsibility” for Germany, Europe and NATO? What should this mean after the disastrous experiences of the former wars?

Lennartz: You are already saying it yourself, nobody in Germany talks aloud about war. There is a very understandable reason for this. The trauma of National Socialism and two catastrophic defeats in the two world wars.

One can certainly discuss the decisions of the Federal Governments of that time to refuse to participate in Iraq and Libya, the wars were still waged, whether Germany was against it or not, and the world is as it is today and Germany has to bear the consequences too.

For me, “more responsibility” for Germany and NATO means not hanging around on the sidelines, knowing everything better afterwards and let the others pay. Germany is an economic superpower, but that goes hand in hand with a corresponding responsibility. In the age of the global village, Germany has to accept that!

The successful missions of the Bundeswehr will only be a beginning.

The necessary return to national and alliance defense will not relieve NATO and Germany of their international responsibility.

GlobalReview: Former German ambassador to Afghanistan Dr : Seidt wrote an essay what Russia has learned from the Afghanistan experience of the Sovjet Union. Frist: Don´t let yourself be drawn in a quagmire anymore. Secondly , don´t try to change whole societies and define realistic and pragmatic goals. Thirdly focus on world regions you can influence, use instabilities to become a major player by the use of limited, but concentrated forces. Should the West draw similar lessons from its own Afghanistan experience?

Lennartz: Of course you can sign his wise words, but to act on them unconditionally will be difficult. Foreign and security policy is a quagmire that, in my opinion, can only be avoided through an isolationist policy.

Dr. Seidt’s proposition not to try to change entire societies is in direct contrast to the concept of State Building. This concept currently has a bad reputation in the West, wrongly in my opinion, and is often criticized by interested circles and made responsible for (almost every) failure.

In general, in “failed states” the enforcement of state power must be strengthened under conditions of state change. In addition, states in processes of change or those with weak state structures must face the challenges that the (re) establishment of state structures and tasks brings with it. To this end, it must be possible to provide assistance without bringing ideological or financial reservations to the fore.

Charles Tilly, American historian, political scientist and sociologist, describes State Building as follows: “State Building ensures the creation of skilled personnel, control over the consolidated territory, the loyalty and permanence, permanent institutions with a centralized and autonomous state, the holds the monopoly of force over a certain population.”

However, it is important to have a clear intelligence service assessment in advance so that the process can be adapted to local cultural conditions.

The definition of clear and realistic goals, the recognition of instabilities and weak points on the other side, as well as a situation-dependent force approach are a matter of course that do not require any further comment. The only important thing is the regular, unbiased review of goals, problems and approaches to solutions and strengths.

The exclusive focus on influenceable regions of the world, however, is wishful thinking.

Global Review. Are foreign missons for the Bundeswehr not important in future anymore , should the Bundeswehr rely on the defense of Europea and the European territorial integrity, does it, the Europeans and the USA have even the capacities to engagen in new Afghanistans or will they be preoccupied with China and Russia?What do you think should be the lessons from the Afghanistan war?

Lennartz: Whether foreign deployments of the Bundeswehr will be important for the interests and security of the Federal Republic of Germany in the future the international situation will dictate to us.

NATO and the Bundeswehr must direct their main focus on national and alliance defense and the question must be whether NATO, the USA and the Bundeswehr have the necessary capacities. A number of lost skill profiles have to be regained here.

In terms of security policy, NATO and the Bundeswehr will have to operate a kind of dual system of national and alliance defense and missions abroad, as the discussions at the current NATO summit show. The orientation in the strategic concept towards Russia and China as “competing systems” makes this clear.

Global Review: The South China Morning Post reports that some Chineses strategists think about sending “Chinese peace troops” to Afghanistan. Is this a serious scenario as China also doesn´t want to be drawn in a quagmire and the Taiban and other Islamists insist on the withdrawl of all foreign tropps in Afghanistan. On the other side, could China and Pakistan team up to support a Taliban goverment, maybe in alliance with the Haqqani network, Hekmatyar and some warlords to stablize the situation in order to bulid its new Silkroad through Pakistan, Afghanistan to Iran after Chine a signed a 25 years agreement with Iranb? As China didn´t care about human rights or ethnical values, focuses only on stability, economic and geopolitcal gains, coud such a scenarion work out? And as other Muslim countries don´t support the Uigurs, was it possible that the Taliban and other Afghan Islamists don´t support uigurs and fight the Islamic State? How will the regional powers and Russia, India and China influence the situation in Afghanistan?

Lennartz: China and the other neighbor-states bordering Afghanistan will certainly try to fill a power vacuum left by the West in Afghanistan, under whatever label. How China proceeds in such cases can be seen almost every day on the world stage. China relies on a sophisticated system of soft and hard power.

However, alliances between whichever actors are currently purely speculative.

To what extent the treatment of ethnic non-Chinese Muslim minorities in China will influence the relationship of the Chinese state to Islamic countries remains to be seen. At the moment this is not (yet) discussed within the Umma, with a few exceptions. © Thomas Lennartz 2021

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