[sixties-l] Afghanistan as Vietnam (fwd)

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Date: Thu Nov 01 2001 - 16:12:57 EST

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    Date: Thu, 01 Nov 2001 11:59:23 -0800
    From: radtimes <resist@best.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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