Afghan Retreat Echoes of Vietnam Defeat
By Finian Cunningham
October 30, 2014 "ICH"
TV" - It didn’t quite
garner the same media highlight, but nevertheless
there was the unmistakable comparison this week
between the evacuation of American troops from
southern Afghanistan and the Fall of Saigon, South
Vietnam, in 1975.
Both events mark embarrassing retreats by a failing
American empire whose hubris always manages to deny
reality until the illusion of power finally comes
This week thousands of US and British troops were
hurriedly airlifted from the giant military base
known as Camp Bastion in southern Helmand Province.
It was a huge logistical operation involving a fleet
of transport planes and helicopters landing and
taking off over a 24-hour period.
The scene of hasty imperial removal from Helmand
reminded one of the classic photograph taken in 1975
by UPI photographer Hubert Van Es, which captured
American Huey choppers lifting hundreds of desperate
personnel from off the rooftop of the CIA
headquarters in Saigon ahead of imminent defeat by
This week in Helmand the evacuating troops were the
last of the US-led NATO force that has occupied
Afghanistan for the past 13 years. At its peak,
there were 140,000 American troops in the country
with the second biggest contingency being the
British, along with soldiers from nearly 50 other
Now Camp Bastion has been handed over to Afghan
troops and police, who will take over the daunting
task of maintaining security across the country
against a deadly resurgence of Taliban militants.
Officially, the US-led international force is to
wind down its operation in Afghanistan at the end of
this year, but some 10,000 American military and CIA
will remain in the country in a “support role” to
national security forces under a deal signed between
Washington and the new Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
Just like the Fall of Saigon in April 1975, in which
thousands of American personnel were scrambled out
the country ahead of the Vietnamese victory, the
retreat from Afghanistan this week signals another
humiliating defeat for the warmongers in Washington.
Not only a humiliating defeat, but the end of a long
and bloody chronicle of futile war. Thirteen years
ago, the Americans invaded Afghanistan allegedly to
topple a fundamentalist Taliban regime and eradicate
an international source of terrorism led by Saudi
al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
Tens of thousands of deaths later, plus trillions of
dollars billed to the American taxpayers, the US
troops are clearing out from a country that is left
in worst shape. The American-installed government
can barely maintain security in the capital, Kabul,
never mind the surrounding regions. What’s more
terrorism of the Al-Qaeda brand has spread
internationally eliciting the deployment of even
more American militarism abroad, and the ramping up
of state security powers within the US and its NATO
In Afghanistan, the Taliban are resurgent not only
in their southern heartlands, but have taken over
large parts of the east, west and north of the
country, where they previously had little presence.
Schools and other civic administration in these
areas are now reportedly run, not by the US-backed
government in Kabul, but by the militants.
Cultivation of poppy for heroin production - a main
source of finance for the Taliban warlords – has
reached an all-time high with over 200,000 hectares
under cultivation. Nearly half of all Afghan poppy
is harvested in Helmand Province, where US President
Obama launched his much-vaunted surge of 30,000
extra marines in 2009-2010. Despite Washington
spending $7.6 billion to curb poppy production,
Afghanistan has emerged as the world's biggest
source of heroin, while drug addiction in the US is
On security matters, between March and August this
year, nearly 1,000 Afghan troops and 2,200 police
officers were killed in militant attacks. That
represents the worst casualty rate for local forces
over the past 13 years.
With the last of the US-led foreign forces pulling
out this week, there is an ominous sense of the
security levee bursting across Afghanistan.
If anything, the prognosis for Afghanistan is a lot
worse than it was for Iraq where US troops beat a
similar hasty retreat three years ago.
By comparison, Afghanistan has a much more active
insurgency raging even as the Americans are pulling
out. Iraq has gone on to descend into chaos, so the
portent for Afghanistan would seem a lot worse.
Reuters news agency reported the view of US Marine
Staff Sergeant Kenneth Oswood, who participated in
both the Iraq withdrawal and this week's evacuation
from Afghanistan. He said: “It’s a lot different
this time. Closing out Iraq, when we got there, we
were told there hadn’t been a shot fired in anger at
us in years. And then you come here and they are
still shooting at us.”
The US marine added: “It’s almost like it’s not over
here, and we’re just kind of handing it over to
someone else to fight.”
More like handing it over to someone else to do the
The “exceptional” Americans in Washington like to
refer to their foreign interventions as “nation
building.” Like Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, among
dozens of other unfortunate countries to have hosted
American “nation builders” over the past century,
the people of these wretched lands have experienced
Washington’s reverse Midas Touch. Far from turning
to gold, everything Washington touches brings death
And in the end when the American destroyers finally
pack up and run, it is the people that remain who
must pick up the pieces and actually begin the real
process of national development. How easier it would
be if Washington just kept its imperialist,
predatory hands off others.
Finian Cunningham (born 1963) has written
extensively on international affairs, with articles
published in several languages. He is a Master’s
graduate in Agricultural Chemistry and worked as a
scientific editor for the Royal Society of
Chemistry, Cambridge, England, before pursuing a
career in journalism. He is also a musician and
songwriter. For nearly 20 years, he worked as an
editor and writer in major news media organisations,
including The Mirror, Irish Times and Independent.
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