What went wrong?
That seems to be the question of the day. Depending which side you support, the stories are long and conflicting.
The pull out from Afghanistan has been anything but calm and well-planned. The media made sure of that.
For those of us in our sixties and over, we remember the fall of Saigon and the term “peace with honor.” Those of us who enjoy studying history think of Dunkirk, “Operation Dynamo.” And how over 450k British and French forces were evacuated to fight another day.
So, how do these corelate to today?
Nixon made a promise, we will either win the war in Vietnam or pull out. He did just that. Beginning in 1970, the draw down commenced. This included our weapons, with the exception of those the South Vietnamese army were allocated to use. Best number is, the US left 1 billion dollars of equipment for the SVA. What would that number be today? In 1973 a tentative peace deal was signed between North, South Vietnam and the United States. However, the North had no real desire to abide by the deal, but each time they moved, US airpower reminded them who was in charge. Over time funding to the South Vietnamese was curtailed and with rising energy prices, fuel was becoming sparse. On April 30th, 1975, Saigon would fall ending our longest war to date.
The main problem in Vietnam was the North didn’t care how long or what the cost would be, they believed they would eventually triumph. While the South subscribe to the western doctrine of win it or get out. Even though we left plenty of arms and ammunition to fight the NVA, the SVA became too dependent on US support and when it waned so did their desire to continue the war. That goes for their military leaders. They lost the fire in their belly they had used from 60 to 64 where they were performing 90% of the ground fighting and enduring 25k casualties a month. This changed with the Gulf of Tonkin resolution and LBJ made it an American war. They became dependent on our money and our support.
Dunkirk was different in many aspects but still a lot of familiarities. France and Great Britain were convinced Hitler was satisfied with the conquest of Poland and would stop. Even when Denmark and Holland were conquered, they believed there was an outlet of peace, plus, with their forces behind the Maginot Line, what could possibly go wrong? They never thought the Germans would attack through the Ardennes Forest and circumvent the massive defensive line even though it happened in a war game the French conducted in the 30’s. As we know, that’s exactly what the Germans did when they exploded out of Belgium and cut the British AEF off form their supply and communication lines. This was turning into a colossal disaster for the allies. If they couldn’t evacuate the men, the British Army, as they knew it would collapse. Yes, they left tens of millions of pounds in equipment, but that could be replaced. Men, not so much. How much of that was destroyed? That is a good question. It is always a practice to make sure whatever the enemy captures are no longer in usable condition. Artillery guns are spiked, firing pins removed from machine guns and rifles. Aircraft are destroyed, naval vessels scuttled and tanks immobilized. Thus, while the enemy can declare a major victory, what did they actually capture?
Flash forward to today. Many have queried as to why we didn’t have an agreement with the Afghan government. Well, it is assumed, they will take the place of our troops and continue the fight as we assumed back in 1972-73. You have all the equipment, we have trained you, so continue on. That is easier said than done. After reading the tentative peace treaty the US, NATO and Taliban agreed to, it’s obvious that the fighting would continue between government forces and the Taliban. The caveat was, no US forces would be attacked. If so, then all hell would be let loose on those who broke the treaty. That is the crux of the agreement.
We remember the mission, Bush Jr sent our forces into, “Kill Bin Laden.” It was that simple. But, due to a botched call, Jr. hoped the Pakistani’s would seal the border as our troops squeezed Bin Laden and the remnants of Al-Qaeda in the Tora Bora Mountains into a nutshell and then liquidate them. That didn’t happen since Pakistan didn’t want US troops on their soil. That was mistake number 1. Mistake number two was when Obama was able to identify where Bin Laden was located and had him and his associates captured or killed. That was the mission, so why did we stay? We never went in to quote “Empire Build” in this country. We went in to avenge the deaths of 2,996 American citizens who were senselessly attacked and killed. Again, that was the mission. But it dragged on.
Trump, like Nixon, said he would bring our troops home from all foreign wars where there was no definitive mission. Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. If you watched the news, this was not a popular policy with the military experts. Why? That is the question isn’t it. Many spouted off it was the “Military Complex” pulling the strings and would lose those lucrative contracts. Others railed on and on, how it would destabilize the region. When was this region stable? Think Middle East and you see how ludicrous that statement is.
One of the main stories I’ve heard is how China and Russia are hailing the bungled pull-out and the mineral contracts they are pursuing with the current government. Imagine that. Countries wanting to cut a deal while the getting is good. Think about when the USSR fell and how profiteers, foreign and domestic fleeced the new fledging government Gorbachev was trying to organize and institute. The same thing happened during World War Two and Vietnam with the burgeoning black markets. This is nothing new! To the victors go the spoils, so yes, the Taliban will make whatever equitable deal they can make to build up their empty coffers.
So, what went so horribly wrong? We, as outsiders can only do so much research in an attempt to understand the pull-out. The only ones who truly know were those making the calls and if it was the wrong call, do you really think they will admit to it? Highly unlikely. Go back to the Iran/Contra hearings where Admiral Archibald and LT. Colonel Ollie North took the fall. Reagan claimed he knew nothing of what was going. He would recant that statement a few months later.
If we learned anything from Vietnam, it was, get those that supported you our first. Then start drawing down the military but make sure any weapons your allies won’t need or can’t operate are destroyed. All other weapons will be brought out and returned home. An umbrella of security will be set up to make sure your enemy cannot indiscriminately attack your troops during the draw down. Think of a collapsing bag and you’re on the right track.
This did not happen. Biden and his leaders did just the opposite. They yanked the troops out first and then had to go back in, with the permission of the Taliban to execute evacuations. Our forces, 6,000, were only able to secure the perimeter of the airport and not the countryside. We relied on the Taliban to provide security. Hell, that would be like asking the NVA to provide security at Saigon while those remaining attempted to flee.. Damn lucky a resistance fighter with a shoulder mounted stinger didn’t get an itchy finger and try and bring down one of our airplanes in hopes of meeting seventy-seven virgins!
In regards to all the equipment left behind, how much of that was the Afghan Army using? That number is hard to ascertain. It does, however, rival what we left in Vietnam and the British/French at Dunkirk. The numbers are staggering. I didn’t get a warm fuzzy when General McKenzie listed off how many weapons were demilitarized. It’s not even a pittance of what was left behind.
And for Blinken and the Administration to think diplomacy is going to keep the peace, how’d that work for the French/British in Europe and the SVA in Vietnam? It didn’t!
Was it time to leave Afghanistan? The obvious answer is yes. The mission was accomplished when Bin Laden was killed. So why didn’t we pull out then? You’ll have to ask the Obama/Biden Administration and the Joint Chiefs that question. They had five years to put together a feasible withdraw plan and didn’t. Again, the question, why?
Since the killing of Bin Laden over 579 American service men and women died in the line of duty. Why?
As I stated, Trump said he would bring our troops home and he did. He put Syria and Russia on notice when he struck the airbase. He put ISIS on notice and took them out. He drew down troops in Iraq without a fiasco erupting and did the same when he drew down our troop strength in Afghanistan. What we won’t know is how the pull-out from Afghanistan would have unfolded. Would it have been as flawless as the others? Would American blood have been spilt, and lives lost? What we do know is that our Commander-in-Chief and his military advisors ignored or forgot the lessons of the past thus, instead of an orderly evacuation and exit, we saw an episode of “Keystone Cops,” and thirteen American lives were lost over this poorly planned exit scheme. Biden and his people had seven months to plan this, while the British in 1940 had a few weeks to mobilize and get their troops back home. Damn glad they weren’t in charge of “Operation Anvil.”
What we do know, as history teaches us, the Taliban would eventually have taken over the country whether it took two months or two years. In the end, they would prevail, but at least we could have left with a sense of dignity and honor.