15 year ago the world changed 9/11.

The United States invested more than 1000 billion dollar in homeland security.

Another 9/11 has been avoided.

In the debate about Islamic terror, let us not forget this number one terror attack in the United States and why it happened and what went wrong.

Who is to blame: the Democratic president Bill Clinton or the Republican president George W. Bush?

The truth is, 9/11 could have been avoided along with the death of more than 3000 Americans in 2001.

  • There were a lot of bureaucratic mistakes made and mismanagement by the agencies responsible for anti-terrorist activities in the U.S., including the CIA and FBI, and the State Department between 1998 and 9/11. No clever airport security too.
  • There was no credible and details 500-pages-plus Anti-Terrorist Strategy of the United States until 9/11, even after the first bombing of the World Trade Center by Islamic radicals and the attacks on the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.
  • There was no leadership by two US Presidents to contain and defeat terror with all means until is was too late from 1998 to 9/11 for four long missed years.

I will concentrate only on the question of attacking Al Qaeda and killing its leadership in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a country I know from my visits to the Mujahedeens during the Soviet War, when I wrote the report on Afghanistan for the European Parliament, from meeting Pakistan’s Prime Minister Zia Hul Haq and representatives from all the different groups in Afghanistan and Peshawar in 1985.

After the withdrawal of the Soviet troops from Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden lost his mission and perverted his militant interpretation of Islam to a “killing ideology” like Adolf Hitler did in the 1920s and 1930s in Germany with his rude and inhuman Nazi-propaganda and later mass murders of Jews in concentration camps.

After the attacks against the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, the appropriate and necessary U.S. action should have been to wipe out bin Laden’s infrastructure by permanent and massive covert and military actions starting in 1998 to September 2001.

9/11 could have been prevented by early and intensive actions aimed at killing Osama bin Laden and his leadership, using special-forces operations on the ground and targeted bombing of terrorist training camps in Afghanistan during the build-up-phase of his terror network.

The Clinton Administration missed this first opportunity 1998 to 2000 as did the CIA executives responsible for such operations.

To prevent 9/11 by military strikes in Afghanistan in the year 2001 was not possible any more, it was already too late. The living time bombs – the pilots of 9/11 – were in the US already with the operations have been prepared and “ready to go like a loaded gun” in the U.S.A., not Afghanistan any more. Now the FBI with support of the CIA had the chance to find the terrorists in the United States and stop the plans. And Al Qaida still was active with training in the mountains.

The Bush White House got several warning about attacks in the US in summer 2001- and did not bomb al Qaida from February to mid September 2001. A huge and historic mistake by a Republican administration, which instead focussed on Iraq and China. CIA and FBI did not cooperate as needed. Airport security was loose too.

Was it wrong not to try to kill Osama and his leaders in Afghanistan?

Yes, several wrong decisions were made by senior officials of the CIA and the White House National Security Council. They collected more and more information instead of taking actions. Only once in August 1998 Bill Clinton sent 60 Cruise Missiles to Bin Laden’s camps, which was more a demonstration of weakness with a PR effect than an effective strategy. The Pakistani ISIS has informed bin Laden, who fled. It was too little, a show of force without lasting effect on the ground.

The bad news for the victims of 9/11 is that the White House and the senior CIA leadership could have done more for three long years.

The good news for the future is that the U.S. can prevent similar terrorist acts by attacking the attackers first with pre-emptive strikes using covert and military actions.

What were the wrong decisions taken 1998 to 2001?

  • First, not to try to kill Osama bin Laden, but to capture him. This was impossible in the mountains of Afghanistan.
  • Second, not to bomb intensively his camps several times since 1998 combined with US Special Forces operations on the ground.
  • Third, not to aggressively contain and focus with imagination on Al Qaida with an Action Plan, but to engage in long theoretical and intellectual discussions on strategy in Washington D.C.
  • Fourth, no good anti-terror cooperation between the CIA and the FBI to protect America.

Who is to blame for this?

  • At the CIA: Not the people responsible for operations planning – they tried their best – but senior officials who acted too slowly and too softly. CIA Director George Tenet is one of them.
  • At the White House: In my opinion less President Clinton or later President Bush – whose level of attention did not involve them in the more technical counter-actions against Al Qaeda – but their terrorism specialists, the National Security Advisors and staff, who were too uncoordinated, too slow, and too soft. They all failed to develop a credible U.S. Anti-Terror Strategy and an Action Plan against Al Qaeda and thus left their presidents in the dark, who would have otherwise supported a more active strategy.

Let us also remember the facts:

  • Who killed Osama bin Laden, started many deadly drone attacks on terrorists, and prevented another 9/11?: President Obama.
  • Another 9/11 has been avoided since.
  • Lessons learned: better planning is needed and many concrete actions, a new grand strategy to contain the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, no lukewarm policy any more.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia