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Date: Thu, 01 Nov 2001 11:59:23 -0800
From: radtimes <email@example.com>
Subject: Afghanistan as Vietnam
October 31, 2001
Afghanistan as Vietnam
By R. W. APPLE Jr.
New York Times
WASHINGTON, Oct. 30 ^ Like an unwelcome specter from an unhappy past, the
ominous word "quagmire" has begun to haunt conversations among government
officials and students of foreign policy, both here and abroad.
Could Afghanistan become another Vietnam? Is the United States facing
another stalemate on the other side of the world? Premature the questions
may be, three weeks after the fighting began. Unreasonable they are not,
given the scars scoured into the national psyche by defeat in Southeast Asia.
For all the differences between the two conflicts, and there are many,
echoes of Vietnam are unavoidable. Today, for example, Defense Secretary
Donald H. Rumsfeld disclosed for the first time that American military
forces are operating in northern Afghanistan, providing liaison to "a
limited number of the various opposition elements."
Their role sounds suspiciously like that of the advisers sent to Vietnam in
the early 1960's, although Mr. Rumsfeld took pains to say of the
anti-Taliban forces that "you're not going to send a few people in and tell
them they should turn right, turn left, go slower, go fast." The Vietnam
advisers, of course, were initially described in much the same terms, and
the government of the day vigorously denied that they were a prelude to
American combat troops.
In the most famous such denial, Lyndon B. Johnson vowed that he would not
send American boys in to fight the war for Vietnamese boys.
Despite the insistence of President Bush and members of his cabinet that
all is well, the war in Afghanistan has gone less smoothly than many had
hoped. Not that anyone expected a lightning campaign without setbacks;
indeed, both Mr. Bush and Mr. Rumsfeld have often said the effort would be
long and hard.
But signs of progress are sparse. A week ago, the Pentagon said the
military capacity of Taliban leaders in Afghanistan had been "eviscerated"
by allied bombing raids; now ranking officials describe those leaders as
"tough characters" who remain full of fight. The sole known commando sortie
into enemy territory produced minimal results and ample evidence that
American intelligence about the Taliban is thin.
The Northern Alliance, whose generals bragged for weeks that it was about
to capture the pivotal city of Mazar-i-Sharif, has failed to do so. Nor
have its tanks made any progress toward Kabul, the capital. Abdul Haq, the
Afghan soldier to whom many had looked to unify anti-Taliban factions, was
captured and killed by his enemies almost as soon as he returned to the
So influential voices have begun to call for something more than bombing,
special forces raids and covert action. Senator John McCain of Arizona, a
Republican whose views on military matters carry unusual weight with his
peers because of his service as a naval pilot in Vietnam and his years as a
prisoner of war, called on Sunday for the deployment of American ground
troops "in force" in Afghanistan.
Air power alone, Senator McCain and some colleagues in both parties argue,
will never force Osama bin Laden into the open. They believe that only
ground troops, operating from a secure base within Afghanistan, will do the
trick. That might well involve tens of thousands of troops, hundreds of
casualties and many months of effort, they concede, but they see no viable
Conservative columnists like Charles Krauthammer and William Kristol have
criticized the administration, in Mr. Kristol's words, for trying to fight
a war "with half- measures."
The administration has been careful not to rule out the prospect of ground
troops, mindful, no doubt, of the leverage that the Clinton administration
lost by doing so in the Balkans. Asked about the idea over the weekend,
Andrew H. Card Jr., the White House chief of staff, responded, "let's not
go there yet." But it is not known whether it is under serious, active
Clearly, the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, with the
horrific loss of American lives they entailed, would give any United States
decision to dispatch ground forces a kind of moral imperative that American
involvement in Vietnam lacked, even if fighting a land war in Afghanistan
would weaken the broad coalition that has been assembled to fight terrorism.
At least at first, American public opinion would present no problem. The
latest New York Times/CBS News poll shows that a majority of Americans are
prepared to accept the deaths of several thousand American troops there,
although there were the first suggestions that many Americans think that
the war is not going too well.
Strategically, the United States could benefit in Afghanistan from the
Taliban's unpopularity with many Afghans, but American bombs falling on
civilian targets will not win Afghan "hearts and minds."
The terrain in Afghanistan might in some ways be more favorable to the
United States than in Vietnam. Tanks could play a much larger role, for
example. But the Soviet Union, with good tanks in great numbers, was
nonetheless stalemated and eventually defeated by Afghan rebel forces.
Finally, in Afghanistan as in South Vietnam, there is a huge question about
who would rule if the United States vanquished its foe. Washington never
solved that issue satisfactorily after the assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem
in 1963, and solving it in Afghanistan, a country long prone to chaotic
competition among many tribes and factions, will probably not be much easier.
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