Sunday, July 06, 2008

Afghanistan Is The New Vietnam

The US and UK invasion of Iraq came with a warning that it could turn into the new Vietnam. But the new Vietnam is happening now in Afghanistan and the parallels are deeply disturbing.

The BBC reports US-led aircraft and helicopter strikes in Afghanistan have killed scores of civilians. For the first time, Bush has been heckled by anti-war protestors during a 4th of July speech. It's Vietnam all over again.

There are no sudden changes in fighting tactics as some politicians and military chiefs would spin. What is happening in Afghanistan is just harsh reality, as weak spots in military strategy and equipment are probed.

Remote-controlled roadside bombs and booby-traps now target ill-equipped and ill-armed vehicles and pick off the vulnerable. That throwback to the tactics of the Vietcong is set to continue and escalate with bloody consequences.

Political commentators and some MPs are starting to openly question what we are doing in Afghanistan and whether we should pull out now before being sucked in further to a bloody, hopeless unwinnable war.

Afghanistan is no Iraq. There aerial bombardment was followed by a huge tank invasion, well-rehearsed and practised on the plains of Europe, against an identifiable state army, followed by urban street-fighting.

Afghans can swap allegiancies to suit the circumstances. Like the Vietcong, this is an 'invisible' enemy, which strikes and then melts into the background.

As in Vietnam, tanks are useless in the terrain, so what's left is target bombing and special forces patrols and elite forces, as noted in the Independent, operating from lightly defended forward bases. Like Vietnam, they become an easy target to be picked off.

And like Vietnam, helicopter gun-ships come into their own, to force out the 'enemy' and give logistic support. The US has thousands in Afghanistan, the UK just a handful.

In Vietnam, the bombing was aimed at stripping the jungle to force out the Vietcong. In Afghanistan, it's proving more difficult to blow up the side of a mountain.

In Vietnam, it was the disruption of the rice crops, grown for food, which helped turn the people against the US. In Afghanistan it's the poppy fields, grown for hard cash.

So, as in Vietnam, the focus switches to try to hit the supply routes. But Vietnam had weak and easily infiltrated countries surrounding it. And the Ho Chi Minh supply trail in Vietnam, although well-hidden was well-known.

Like Vietnam, in Afghanistan, there are powerful tribal loyalties, a strong culture and centuries of tradition of non-urban guerilla warfare.

Arms and weapons may come from powerful Iran, but the 'enemy' come from the south and transcends the meaningless borders between Afghanistan and the modern state of Pakistan. People with those tribal loyalties and centuries of tradition fighting invaders, don't recognise an artificial border drawn on a map.

It took a long time for the US to come round to the harsh reality that the Vietnam War could never be won. Here in the UK and in the US politicians should heed that lesson now.

In the end, the US wasn't defeated by the military might of the north Vietnamese or the Vietcong. They were defeated at home, when, night after night, the endless parade of boxes and body bags on TV, finally turned public opinion.

History often comes round to repeat itself. It's happening now in Afghanistan.

Picture: Combat weary US soldiers in Vietnam prepare to remove the body of a fallen comrade.

No comments: