The sudden collapse of the Afghan army and government apparently came as a surprise to many people, including the Biden administration. They and the press were dumbfounded. Really? Why?
Anyone who knows anything about the collapse of the South Viet Namese army and government knew Afghanistan, as it has been from the beginning, is a replay of Viet Nam.
Please ask yourself if this sounds similar to Afghanistan. On 3 March 1975, the North Viet Namese Army (NVA) launched an offensive in II Corps, the Central Highlands. By 10 March, the NVA had captured their first major objective, Ban Me Thut.
Five days before (5 March), the CIA issued an assessment asserting the South Viet Namese government could hold out until sometime in 1976.
After a week of fierce fighting, Army of the Republic of Viet Nam (ARVN) troops began a disorderly retreat toward Sai Gon. Efforts to mount defenses collapsed in front of the fast advancing NVA as Hue, Da Nang and Xuan Loc fell in quick succession, leaving the road open to Sai Gon.
The South Viet Namese army melted away, literally. On 30 April NVA tanks rolled into Sai Gon. The last active resistance was by the ARVN Airborne Division (a company of which I had the honor of being an advisor in 1969 and 1970) battling NVA tanks in the streets of Sai Gon with B-40 rockets and M-16’s.
It took from 3 March to 30 April, 59 days, for the complete collapse of South Viet Nam. In Afghanistan, the story was much the same as one city, one provincial capital after another fell to the Taliban in swift succession. The primary difference was the absence of fierce fighting that marked the NVA offensive.
While the ARVN mounted some resistance, the Afghan army essentially brokered deals with the Taliban and gave up territory without a fight. In the final analysis, that probably was a better decision. Apparently, Afghan soldiers had learned more from Viet Nam than did the mighty U.S.
I knew, as did many, collapse was coming. I didn’t know exactly when, but I knew the end would be swift. As I saw the Taliban advance, I thought I was prepared emotionally. I wasn’t. Old wounds reopened as I saw video of the crush of Afghans desperately trying to leave their country because they mistakenly had sided with the U.S.
Almost instantly, I went back to April, 1975. The anguish and pain of that time was and remains indescribable. My concern then, as now, was what will happen to all of those left behind who made the mistake of siding with the U.S.
That war, like Afghanistan, was on us. None of what happened between 1946 and 1975 would have happened if the U.S. had kept its word to our World War II Viet Namese ally, Ho Chi Minh, to oppose the reentry of French colonialism in Southeast Asia and support the independence of (a unified) Viet Nam.
Influenced by arrogant and incompetent advisors full of hubris, President Truman broke that agreement and the rest, as they say, is history.
Similarly, none of what has happened and is happening would have happened if President Carter not been persuaded by Zbigniew Brzezinski, a genuinely vile person, to turn Afghanistan into “the USSR’s Viet Nam”. It did become the USSR’s Viet Nam. And thanks to Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, and Obama, it became Viet Nam 2.0 for the U.S.
The U.S. should have let the people of Afghanistan sort out their own problems. They didn’t need our “help” to drive the Soviets out. By backing the most extremist and reactionary elements of the Mujahideen, including Osama Bin Laden, we set in motion the forces that brought the Taliban to power in 1996, gave us 9/11, and returned the Taliban to power in 2021. Please also remember, it was not Afghans who attacked us on 9-11. It was Saudis, and we did nothing to Saudi Arabia.
From my experiences in Viet Nam, I know the anguish, pain and, yes, rage many Afghan veterans (probably Iraqi veterans too) felt as they watched the debacle unfold at the Kabul airport. It is the exact same anguish, pain and rage I felt as I watched the desperate attempts of Viet Namese to flee Viet Nam. Men hanging from the struts of helicopters as birds lifted off, only to drop to the ground, just as we saw bodies falling from a C-17.
Many of my Viet Nam brothers are feeling the same anguish, pain and rage. For us, it is a wound that has been ripped open. There is no describing the emotions. Those who have not been “there” cannot possibly know.
The most outrageous event occurred the day Kabul defenses collapsed and the Taliban took control of the city and, effectively, the nation. In an interview, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was asked if what was happening in Kabul was similar to what happened in Sai Gon. He had the temerity to deny any similarity between the two.
Blinken either is a profoundly ignorant, or a despicable liar. Actually, he probably is both. He is a Cold War style interventionist and war monger. Yes, he has held many government foreign policy positions, and has been full of nit wit ideas like dividing Iraq into effectively three countries, supporting the 2003 invasion of Iraq, advocating U.S. intervention in Libya, and “crafting” U.S. policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan. Look where his nit-wit ideas got us. More importantly, look where it got the people of Afghanistan and our servicemen and women who sacrificed so much there.
While he loves war, like George W. Bush, he’s too much the coward to put on the uniform and go fight one.
Blinken never should have been appointed Secretary of State. He is incompetent, as he has proven with the evacuation debacle. President Biden must take responsibility for the astoundingly poor planning, but Blinken and another incompetent, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, are the ones tasked with the responsibility of planning the evacuation. They never should have been appointed and should be fired immediately.
In fairness, any evacuation was going to be chaotic. But as we say in the Army, proper prior planning prevents poor performance; and what we saw in the early days of the evacuation was a putridly poor performance. If Blinken and Austin didn’t know this collapse was coming and coming fast, they are willfully blind.
Planning should have begun shortly after Biden took office in January. Airlift capability should have been pre-positioned so there could be dozens of flights out of Kabul every day. Trump’s sabotage of the immigration process to prevent Afghans from entering the U.S. should have been rectified months ago.
The SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) process should have been streamlined in the spring, and should have been waived for all pending applicants with the collapse of Kabul. People showing up at the gates with partially completed paperwork should have been allowed to evacuate. Straighten out the paperwork later at some secure location.
So much could and should have been done that wasn’t because Blinken and Austin were too full of hubris, of the notions of U.S. “exceptionalism” and omnipotence. Just as in Viet Nam, we are abandoning thousands of Afghans who could and should have been evacuated. The over 120,000 thousand we managed to evacuate is less than half of what we should have evacuated, and would have evacuated if there had been proper prior planning. This failure is unconscionable.
For myself and, doubtlessly many of my Viet Nam brothers and sisters, the pain is excruciating to see a replay of Viet Nam down to the final debacle of people desperately holding on to aircraft in a vain and deadly attempt to flee their country.
The final horrible scene was the “dignified transfer” on Sunday, 29 August, of the bodies of 13 service members killed in Afghanistan. Thankfully, the last of our losses. But what of those Americans and Afghans left behind?
The transfer was very solemn and very dignified. Watching was unbearable as it took me back to Viet Nam and the two times I saw lines of flag draped coffins being loaded on to C-141’s at Ton Son Nhut air base. Watching broke my heart. I am not ashamed to admit, as I have done numerous times in watching the debacle unfold with the collapse of Kabul, I cried almost continuously from the exit of the first coffin to the last.
If what has happened in Afghanistan the last 20 years, and particularly the last few weeks, doesn’t break your heart, you don’t have one.
Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by Rio Grande Valley-based writer and academic Samuel Freeman. The column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian International News Service with the permission of the author. Freeman can be reached by email via: [email protected].
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column shows Samuel Freeman during his service in Viet Nam. He is carrying an orphan.
Editor’s Note: This is the second guest column Samuel Freeman has penned about the Unite States’ departure from Afghanistan. Click here to read the first column.
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