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Afghanistan is America’s Second Vietnam
Osama bin Laden enticed us into the "Afghan trap" just as Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s foreign policy advisor, bragged: “six months before the 1978 the Soviet deployment into Afghanistan, we took the opportunity to give the Soviet Union its own Vietnam to induce the Afghan trap.”
Afghanistan is America’s Second Vietnam
By Gil Villagrán, MSW
Spanish philosopher and Harvard historian George Santayana’s prescient statement, “Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it,” offers a chilling epitaph to our new president’s commitment to double our efforts in this seventh year of war in Afghanistan.
As you may recall, on October 7, 2001, less than one month after the 9-11 attacks by al-Qaeda, our nation invaded Afghanistan in Operation Enduring Freedom. The stated purpose was to capture Osama bin Laden, destroy al-Qaeda and terminate the Taliban regime that provided it safe harbor. The Bush Doctrine stated that we would not distinguish between terrorists and nations that harbor them, in spite of the reality that the 9-11 attacks were co-planned in Hamburg and South Florida as much as in Afghanistan.
Seven years later, bin Laden is reportedly in the tribal lands of western Pakistan, and Afghanistan is a republic with a parliament and elected president. However, even with our present 28,300 U.S. soldiers and additional 55,000 from 41 countries, the Taliban now control 72% of the nation, 3 of 4 main highways, and operate near Kabul, the capital. So the Obama plan is to increase our troops by at least 17,000. The critical question is: will a total strength of 100,000 be enough to control a population increasingly hostile to “foreign invaders?”
Heeding the Santayana warning, let us recall that Afghanistan was invaded by more than 100,000 Soviet troops in 1978 to support a government they helped to install, a so-called “client state.” In the next nine years of gruesome war, 620,000 troops served, 15,000 died, 470,000 were sickened by hepatitis, typhoid, severe mental incapacity--even suicide, and 11,000 were maimed--suffering lifelong disabilities; all at a cost of $655 billion in today’s U.S. dollars.
More than one million Afghanis died during this period, and five million, one-third of the population, fled to Pakistan or Iran, escaping the carnage delivered by Soviet jet fighters, attack helicopters, tanks, artillery, rifles, and millions of land mines. The Soviet Union, at the time the second most powerful and well equipped army in the world, was defeated by sandal-wearing guerrilla fighters, later re-named “Taliban, warriors of god.” How could this asymmetrical defeat occur? The answer is: the secret arming of the Afghani fighters by the CIA—with thousands of stinger surface-to-air shoulder-fired missiles with which one fighter can bring down a multimillion-dollar jet fighter. The U.S. provided billions in weapons and training, turned the expected Soviet victory into humiliating defeat that served as the key ingredient of the collapse of the empire.
Why did Soviet leaders stake their mighty nation on controlling a third rate nation stuck in the 19th century? Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s foreign policy advisor, brags: “six months before 1978 the Soviet deployment into Afghanistan, we took the opportunity to give the Soviet Union its own Vietnam to induce the Afghan trap.” That is, because we supported opposing elements to the Soviet client government, their advisors saw Afghanistan as “the line in the sand” that must remain under their control. That was the Afghan trap into which the Russian bear entered in a convoy of tanks and after nine years left with caskets and defeat. But after loss of this minor war, the Soviet empire collapsed financially, morally, and that defeat encouraged its own socialist republics to break apart, seeking their own destinies without Kremlin control.
Eleven years after the Soviet exit and twenty-six days after Osama bin Laden’s 9-11 attack, our army invaded Afghanistan. Seven years later, we are deep in our own Afghan trap, a nation that defeated the Russians, as it defeated the British in 1885. Although it has not defeated us, if we remember our history in Vietnam, we won every battle, killed 2-3 million, and still lost the war with 58,000 killed in a trillion dollar quagmire. Are we doomed to re-live Vietnam in Afghanistan, a nation historians call “the graveyard of empires?”