Afghanistan: the new Vietnam?

McChrystalGeneral Stanley McChrystal, commander of US forces in Afghanistan, has sent his proposal for a new strategy to his bosses at the White House and NATO headquarters. Although details of what he wants to do haven’t yet been made public, we do know that he calls the situation ‘serious’ but says success is achievable with a revised strategy. Some people are not so sure.
In Britain’s Mirror newspaper on the weekend, the long-serving and well respected defence correspondent Robert Fox said Afghanistan risks becoming Britain’s Vietnam.

He compares the stated aim of the NATO to ‘Afghanise’ the security forces with Richard Nixon’s plan to ‘Vietnamese’ the forces fighting the Viet Cong. And he points out that turned out to be a disaster for the Americans – the Vietnamese forces were ill-prepared and unable to live up to the expectations put on them. He warns the same thing would happen in Afghanistan.

With more allied troops going in there, despite the serious questions raised over the validity of the recent Presidential election, and the ability of the incumbent Hamid Karzai to keep his country under control, are the NATO countries throwing good money – and lives -after bad?

Is Afghanistan the Vietnam of this century? Is it time for coalition forces to cut their losses and go?

24 Responses to “Afghanistan: the new Vietnam?”

  1. 1 steve
    August 31, 2009 at 20:02

    I think it probably is. Afghanistan is a failed state, nothing will ever change that. So any attempt to is doomed to fail. I think it’s time that in the west to accept, that there are failed states out there, and there’s no hope for them. Afghanistan might have not been that different from european nations in the middle ages, but it’s no longer the middle ages.

  2. 2 Keith- Ohio
    August 31, 2009 at 20:10

    I thought that Iraq was the new Vietnam? Or maybe Afghanistan is the new Iraq… in all seriousness though, I would draw a big line between the Vietnam War and the War on Terror, particularly in the motivation for becoming involved.

    The War on Terror is more concerned with dealing with certain groups within Afghanistan, while the Vietnam war was concerned with interfering with what amounted to a civil war that divided the government of a country itself. This is why these wars are so difficult to manage, because the military support both has to combat a threat and prop up a foreign government simultaneously. Therefore, I would draw more of a parallel between Vietnam and Iraq.

    Afghanistan, however, is difficult for a different reason- the military support has to fight a powerful group that, while it has much influence in the government, is still somewhat separated from the government, meaning that the government itself can’t be targeted.

    They are all similar in that they are difficult conflicts to manage, because military forces cannot easily eliminate problems that are rooted in the infrastructure of a country.

  3. 3 Tom K in Mpls
    August 31, 2009 at 20:13

    Not even close. Unless by that you mean a long involvement with no traditional victory conditions, then maybe. The main focus in Vietnam was to crush any communistic elements with no thought as to why the situation developed and no thought to the future. It was extreme stupidity.

    In Afghanistan, we acknowledge the history, we acknowledge the different beliefs. We have found there is an element considered to be criminal by the majority of the locals, and the world. It is their goal to spread their control as far as they can with no regard to geography or local beliefs, even when the religious beliefs are shared. We are in Afghanistan to support the various locals to develop in all aspects to the point that they can securely develop further on their own.

    Some politicians have tried to promote their own agendas. But the thing I have found most interesting, is the number of senior international warriors that speak out promoting empowerment, freedom of choice in all aspects of local life and the development of an economy. They are the ones with lasting peace in their hearts.

  4. 4 anu_D
    August 31, 2009 at 20:14

    And if they can’t or don;t want to handle it themselves but can’t leave Afganistan on it’s own yet…….the US can outsource the law-order to the Indian army….that is big in size, powerful, adept with terrain and culture

  5. 5 gary
    August 31, 2009 at 21:37

    Ancient generals well understood the purposes to which war might be put; to conquer and hold territory, to destroy an opposing nation, and/ or to appropriate its property and people as slaves. Victories and defeats were usually complete. Modern generals and their clearly uniformed troops, on the other hand, have been given the task of conquering a subset of Afghanistan’s population that coincidently shares the same “uniform” and enjoys both the fear and sympathy of the larger population, without simultaneous alienation of this latter group. This doesn’t sound an easy, brief, or indeed possible task as stated. This conflict differs from that in Vietnam in important ways; but they may indeed share the same outcome. As in southeast Asia, partially victorious usually corresponds to mostly defeated.

  6. 6 Saut
    August 31, 2009 at 21:43

    Why is it difficult for the USA to understand that saving US bankers’ livelihoods with billions of US dollars in aid whilst stinting expenditure in destroying the enemy (and saving USA soldiers’ lives) can never win the war in Afghanistan. If USA conduct of war is to be in line with public relations goals of proportionate response and not looking like a bully, then, quit the Afghan War.
    Let the Afghanis sort themselves out. Nothing is more stupid than to see a rich nation USA paying ‘protection money’ to their bankers so its economy is not hurt. Instead of spending more to protect the lives of its soldiers.

  7. 7 helen in usa
    August 31, 2009 at 22:58

    I don’t know if we get any perfectly accurate description of the situation in military operations. To me the one idea that comes to mind is to shrink the battle field. And if you can’t find the conflict area and reduce it;the only choice left is to expand civil society. I don’t understand who will become “Afghanised”;NATO forces?If battling to achieve success isn’t practical,then you need to set up projects that succeed and see if a battle tries to destroy the successful civil project. Cut and run is like throwing your teenager out of the house. It is destructive and negative;not much good,if any,can come of it. Ruin and waste are more likely to be the main results.

  8. 8 Bert - USA
    September 1, 2009 at 01:23

    Having lived through the “Vietnamization” program, I think you guys mischaracterized it. I never thought it was meant to be a legitimate effort at letting the South Vietnamese take over their fight. More realistically, it was a US forces extrication policy. It was as if by edict, the US was placing the burden on the South Vietnamese Army. Case closed.

    I think the situation is entirely similar in Iraq and now also in Afghanistan. Just like Vietnam, the US is attempting to “nation build” in a foreign culture *and* one in which an insurgency movement exists. It’s hard enough to pretend to build a nation in a strange land. Fighting an insurgency at the same time is what makes it close to impossible. Because the foreign forces take two steps backwards for every step forward.

    Afghanistan was only supposed to be the clobbering of the Taliban and the destruction of the training camps. The Northern Alliance was supposed to build the nation. We should not have changed the mission.

  9. 9 Deryck/Trinidad
    September 1, 2009 at 02:42

    They should have never gone in the first place, but now it’s time to leave. The NATO and US forces can’t win this war. The most they’ll get is a Pyrrhic victory.

  10. 10 Tan Boon Tee
    September 1, 2009 at 03:03

    New Vietnam?

    Months ago, when the top US general was hastily dispatched to replace his predecessor, he had the responsibility for working promptly on a new strategy to win the heart of the people.

    Now, he says the US needs fresh Afghan strategy, arguing that protecting the lives of the people must be the top priority, and further insinuating (like what the British premier did earlier) that more troops would be required. Isn’t this worrying? Has anyone forgotten about Vietnam?

    One wonders what have been the main roles of the Afghan security officers? Are their duties clearly defined?

    Expect more inevitable casualties in the already devastated nation.

  11. 11 Tabitha
    September 1, 2009 at 05:03

    I live in the US and don’t want American bases in this country so I can imagine how the rest of the world must feel.

  12. 12 Matthew Houston
    September 1, 2009 at 05:09

    I think what needs to be addressed more directly is the underlying ideological conflict which is driving this war.

    The strategists are generally starting to realize that the core battle is with ourselves and our ability to comprehend the aspects of humanity necessary to identify with a populous who generally has fundamental disagreements with the imposed values and methods.

    This struggle (the inner conflict against/with the values of others) is the crux of our capacity to affect the power base of fundamentalists, because it addresses the foundation of the local support or apathy toward those who would cause violence and intimidation.

  13. 13 scmehta
    September 1, 2009 at 07:00

    It is absolutely wrong to draw comparisons between the Vietnam and the Afghanistan operations. What we are now fighting against is the evil of terrorism attacking and trying to tear apart the very fabric of the human values. I am sure in my mind, that, the extremists and terrorists are at their wits end, because they know that their being rooted out of Afghanistan and Pakistan would mean that they would be completely disorganized and would have to remain on an aimless run till they meet their ultimate doom. With an international base in Afghanistan, we can most effectively give a hot pursuit to the terrorists till they meet their nemesis, besides securing peace for this region as`well as the whole world.

  14. 14 Artie - CA
    September 1, 2009 at 12:22

    @ scmehta

    Try substituting the word “communist” everytime you imply “terrorist” and see if you’re not rehashing history.

  15. 15 Dennis Junior
    September 1, 2009 at 13:03

    Yes, Afghanistan is the new Vietnam and, it is time for the Authorities in the appropriate governments departments e.g. Ministry of Defense and Department of Defense to look out removing the soldiers from country……

    =Dennis Junior=

  16. 16 patti in cape coral
    September 1, 2009 at 13:55

    I don’t think we get all the information, but I think we need to get out. The cost of victory, if we achieve it, will be too high.

  17. 17 helen in usa
    September 1, 2009 at 16:05

    Well,Patti,wars are fought. Not won. People say victory,but it only means that the goal was achieved. When you look at the cost in lives and devastation in the end,nobody would really say anybody ‘won’. Not when so much is lost. Military action is never taken for no reason. It’s a big decision and a big responsibility. And Tabitha,I was an idealist when I was 16 years old. I thought a Utopian society sounded like what you need. I was very young seeing the blood from VietNam on the tv at night. My brother was a Marine. He’s alive. My Utopian society idea included”no guns.no killing.” We can’t dictate the terms of reality. The fact is if you have something worth taking,or if you have something someone wants,they will try to take it from you by force. Idealist,poet,peacemonger,”All You Need Is Love”;I am still who I was as an idealistic teenager. But even at 16 I knew the fatal error in my Utopia was that you need a military. Because there is always someone who will want to take what you have if it’s worth taking,or,or if they want it.So even if it isn’t a nice. Idea to some people,if we have no military,we have no defenses;and bad as it might be,we need defenses.

  18. 18 Bert - USA
    September 1, 2009 at 16:51

    Artie – CA said: “Try substituting the word ‘communist’ everytime you imply ‘terrorist’ and see if you’re not rehashing history.”

    BINGO! That was my reaction exactly.

    The other parallel is this. We had “advisers” training the Vietnamese from 1964 to 1971, when this Vietnamization Program began. At the time I thought, who are they kidding? If we haven’t been able to “Vietnamize” the battle until now, what makes anyone buy this new turn of phrase as being anything more than a “let’s get out now” move?

    Similarly, have we not been fighting alongside the Afghan forces, initially the Northern Alliance, since 2001 or 2002?

    Taliban Viet Cong.

  19. 19 Dennis Junior
    September 1, 2009 at 16:53

    The entire problem with the Afghan Theater (War) and its problems now, is that the authorities in Washington and London were not prepared to undertake the ALL of the PROBLEMS, that the Taliban left the Afghan people with…..

    =Dennis Junior=

  20. 20 patti in cape coral
    September 1, 2009 at 17:07

    @ Helen – Yes, I can relate to your idealism at 16, and in fact, a friend of my daughter’s is an adamant pacifist. I want to be one too, but I think the main problem is that pacifism only works if everyone is a pacifist, so you can’t really be one in this world. I want to say that no war is really worth the lives it takes, but I wonder what the US would be like now without the civil war, what the world would be like without any of the wars that happened. One of my co-workers cynically commented that maybe the wars are useful as far as helping the over-population problem…

  21. 21 Rashid Patch
    September 1, 2009 at 18:51

    After the end of a pull-out by some other colonialist power, we thought we could do better. So, we invaded a 3rd-world country, diving into the middle of a civil war there between social revolutionaries and gangster warlords. We backed the gangster warlords. The gangsters keep killing each other (and everybody else) unless we continually pay them off by helping them in the drug trade. The social revolutionaries keep attacking us to get us out of their country. We spend decades shoveling money into the maw of defense contractors, and what we get is recession and increasing social tension at home, a generation of damaged vets, and a bigger drug problem.

    Hmmm… sounds like.. Viet Nam.. Laos… Cambodia… Columbia… where else?…

    Back of it all is the desire of the military to have forward bases near the western border of China. Long-term, China is the strategic threat. However, the strategic thinkers are always too few, and always have their plans messed up by the short-sighted opportunists. Result: gangster warlord armies that destabilize all the surrounding countries.

    Of course, “terrorists” is what we call the gangsters whom we are not currently paying off….. usually because they are stealing on too small a scale to be interesting. When they can steal on the order of 100s of millions, they become “allies”….

  22. 22 Tony Parkes
    September 1, 2009 at 23:53

    hmmm….. interesting. presenting the current and future as the past. Afghanistan: the new Vietnam.

    Vietnam showed us the duplicity and maddness of west moral in its pursuit of idelogical, corrupt and murdersous agenda. Why is it that all we learnt from Vietnam conflict was how to militarily fight future conflicts better.

    The arrogance and evil from the west is beyond reason. Yes, madness reigns in Afganistan, there are religious sects and tensions but to somehow believe you can beat people into submission or scare or put fear into them in order to conform does and has never worked.

    Until the west countries either confirm what their interest in Afganistan truly is or accept that the only solution is to work with the people they have chosen to fight, innocent people will continue to die for you and I in our previledge world.

    The taliban or whatever you wish to call them are the solution and not the problem. You need to accept this and work with their culture and ways to bring about change. It took America over 200 years to give black people equality, as far back as the 1960’s black people were still segregated and prosecuted and hung like dogs. A war against America would have not changed anything but increase suffering and distrust amongst all parties.

    Let’s not repeat the same in Afganistan. The time to talk is now, we did not in Vietnam, Iraq, Korea and when talking has been fully exhausted they we must make clear our agenda for intevention and the scope of it. The talking and intervention must be done by afganistan’s neighbours and not by countries 6000 or 12000 miles away who do not know or share the harshness or pain of the histiry and country. It is much easier when you know.

  23. September 2, 2009 at 09:31

    I am sorry but I can not put this on the blog because your final paragraph is in capital letters. If you edit your work and re-send it I will post it.
    Thanks, Helen

  24. 24 nora
    September 2, 2009 at 18:16

    The war in Afghanistan is marking a generation with dead soldiers but we don’t know if we should be there. In that regard it is like Viet Nam.

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