Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Vietnam Then, Afghanistan Now: Is Trump Making A Historic Blunder With A Hasty Exit Deal From Afghanistan?

From spearheading a “good war” in Afghanistan, the United States is making all efforts to ease the burden off its head before the US Presidential elections. Even though the so-called “historic” peace deal is a reality now, the Afghanistan war is far from over.

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In his latest analysis for the New York Times, David E Sagner makes an important comparison between the Afghan situation with that of Vietnam under President Richard M Nixon. He notes that Trump poses the same risk for Afghanistan that Nixon was guilty of after signing the peace deal with North Vietnam in January 1973.

The author notes that Afghanistan is driven by a dynamic different from that of Vietnam. Further, Sagner goes to criticize the three successive US Presidents who although pursued different routes to achieve victory in Afghanistan and inevitably failed on both the political fronts and on the battlefield.

It was President Bush who laid the foundation of the war in the pursuit of hunting down the mastermind behind the September 11 attacks, Osama Bin Laden. The first hint of his failure, as Sagner suggests, is the drift of focus towards Iraq.

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President Barack Obama called Iraq a strategic mistake but vowed that Washington would not lose the “good war” in Afghanistan. Yet his brief “surge” failed to strike a decisive blow. The strategy was soon turned over to a small group inside his White House that was aptly nicknamed the “Afghan Good Enough” committee.

The Afghan war began on 7th October 2001 as a response to the terror attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York. However, post the assassination of Bin Laden in May 2011 in Pakistan, Washington now believes it has no purpose to be in Afghanistan.

According to the website icasualties.org, since the American invasion in Afghanistan, around 2,400 service members have laid their lives in the Afghan war.

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As per the historic peace accord between the US and the Taliban signed in Doha, the US is set to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan and lowering its strength from 12,000 to 8,600. The fact is, as Sagner stresses, it is the exact same number that was on the ground three years ago in the tenure of President Obama. Apparently, it is the number necessary to hold the capital city of Kabul in order to retaliate against any large scale attack.

With the intra-Afghan talks on the cards, the onus is on the Afghan government to reach an agreement with the Taliban who have refused to talk to the ‘puppet government’. The author writes that just as the South Vietnamese were not part of the Paris peace talks a half-century ago, the Afghan government, whose survival is at stake, was excluded from the long negotiations with the Taliban.

Douglas E. Lute, a former Army general who served in Afghanistan under Bush, believes that if America leaves Afghanistan, there is a reason to be concerned. With the same concern, more than 20 Republicans and Democrats expressed themselves in a letter warning that the Taliban isn’t a de-facto counterterrorism partner.

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Sagner believes that Trump, in contrast to his predecessors, just wants to get out of Afghanistan and accurately senses the mood of the American public. Washington is not able to justify what the United States is trying to accomplish in the US especially when the youngest American troops being deployed in Afghanistan were not even born in 2001.

Sagner quotes Stephen Tankel, who worked on Afghan issues at both the Pentagon and the House of Representatives  “Trump is probably more interested in getting a deal that allows him to start drawing down before Election Day than he is in the parameters of this deal.”

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