by Ron Spangler
Most Americans try to forget the Vietnam War as if it never happened and refuse to think the situation in Afghanistan can be compared to the situation that existed in Vietnam. They are wrong. As a Vietnam Vet I can see some of the parallels that face our troops and President Obama.
In Vietnam we were fighting a well established government and a terrorist organization. The North Vietnamese Military was a well trained and well supplied military force. The Vietcong were not just a guerrilla organization they used terrorist tactics on South Vietnamese citizens and were in reality terrorists. We just didn't use the term terrorist during the war.
North Vietnam was being supplied and reinforced by Russia and China. After we defeated the North Vietnam Military and they were forced back across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) the Vietcong stepped up their guerrilla war. North Vietnam continued their fight but used the Ho Chi Min Trail through Laos and Cambodia to continue the war. We were not allowed to cross into these countries and cut off the supply of arms, food and men coming out of the North. We used special forces, secret bombings and secret crossings to combat the resupplies but it continued until we finally left South Vietnam.
Until the 1968 Tet Offensive Americans for the most part backed the war in Vietnam. Using the Ho Chi Min Trail the North flooded the South with men and weapons preparing for one great assault that would break the will of the American people and our military. It worked on the civilian population in America but it did not succeed with our military. The civilians back home saw the widespread offensive as a overall defeat while our military saw it as a victory. The Vietcong were all but eliminated and the North was resoundingly defeated and pushed back across the DMZ. Even the North said they would never try another all out attack on the South again, at least not until the Americans left.
Today in Afghanistan we are fighting not only Al Qaeda but the remnants of the Afghanistan government, Taliban. The Taliban are being supplied by not only Al Qaeda and their Muslim supporters around the Muslim world, they are also being trained and supplied by Iran. Who is supplying Iran, Russia and China. Why would Russia or China supply Iran knowing they are supplying the Taliban, neither one wants to see America win in Afghanistan. They see America as being too powerful and cannot afford to see us gain more influence, especially in a Muslim area of the world. To some extent we have succeeded in Iraq and have a large US Military force stationed on the Western border of Iran. It is simply unbearable for Russia, Iran and China to allow the US to succeed in Afghanistan and have a large US Military force stationed on the Eastern border of Iran. In the eyes of Russia and China boxing Iran in with US Military on both sides would give the US too much political leverage over Iran.
Today Iran, Russia, China, the Taliban and Al Qaeda are looking for another Vietnam Tet Offensive. If successful it will have the same effect in public opinion and Obama will lose his war in Afghanistan. History repeats itself because we never seem to learn from our mistakes. Our enemies look carefully at how Americans react to high casualty numbers in our military. Because these are American young men and women dieing in foreign lands we will not stand for the loss to grow to the numbers we encountered in Vietnam. Our enemies do not see high numbers of casualties as a problem as long as they can continue to recruit more fighters and beat down America.
Like in Vietnam the Taliban and Al Qaeda are hiding in Pakistan and the Taliban are now in Iran being trained and supplied. They are crossing into Afghanistan attacking and killing our forces then retreating back to safe havens in these countries. Pakistan is trying to fight back the Taliban and Al Qaeda for their own self preservation but are not being all that successful. Terrorist attacks within Pakistan are having a detrimental effect in public opinion of the Pakistan government. The Taliban needs safe haven in Pakistan and Iran the same as the North and the Vietcong needed Laos and Cambodia during the Vietnam War.
With military pressure President Johnson added more troops in Vietnam and the war escalated but due to heavy US casualties during the Tet Offensive public opinion was lost. Now General McChrystal is calling for more troops (around 40,000) and predicting if the troops are not forth coming in a timely manner the mission will fail. Afraid of his Democrat base President Obama is waffling. If he continues to delay and refuses to listen to his commanders on the ground we could see a Taliban offense very similar to the Vietnam Tet Offense and the results may well be high casualty reports and a public outcry for a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan. If a major Taliban offense takes place before President Obama reinforces our military it will more than likely target the towns and tribal areas in the South and NATO Forces that are at present refusing to join in combat missions. These NATO forces will immediately withdraw if they receive heavy casualties during such an assault.
Vietnam had its isolated villages, jungles and mountains. Afghanistan has its isolated tribal area (villages), caves, and mountains. Both have the civilians to worry about. Insurgents, terrorist or guerrillas (call them what you like) hide within the civilian population and attack at will. Separating the two can be difficult or sometimes impossible.
These are the parallels that Vietnam and Afghanistan have in common. President Obama has now seen the intelligence findings that he never saw when he was a Senator calling for removing our troops from Iraq and sending them to Afghanistan. He said and always believed the Central War on Terror was and should be Afghanistan. President Bush believed it would be better to fight Al Qaeda in Iraq and turn Afghanistan over to NATO. He believed Pakistan could take care of the remnants of the Taliban. Al Qaeda took the bait and did fight in Iraq taking their eyes off Afghanistan. Unfortunately Pakistan tried to negotiate and appease the Taliban, it didn't work. Countries like Germany and France supply forces to NATO in Afghanistan but they will not allow their forces to fight. This allowed the Taliban grow in strength.
We did kill and destroy a large portion of Al Qaeda terrorists in Iraq and that part of the war has turned out to be a success. Now Al Qaeda and the Taliban with help from Iran are reemerging in Afghanistan. President Obama cannot afford to show weakness because Iran is supporting the Taliban. He cannot show weakness in the eyes of Russia, China, or the Islamic countries. We have too many enemies waiting to see if Afghanistan will be another Vietnam. With Iran going full speed ahead to get their hands on a nuclear bomb in order to destroy Israel, we cannot afford to lose in Afghanistan. Delaying or second guessing his commander on the ground is showing weakness and the result may be the Democrats will win and we will all lose.