The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

Afghanistan….. Vietnam?

The American situation has dramatically changed in Iraq.  Daily the end state seems to gain more clarity and the Administration has just announced that troop strength by the end of 2010 will be approximately 50K.  Given that, attention is shifting to Afghanistan.  Afghanistan is dramatically different than Iraq.  A quick look at geography, history, and demographics, not to mention the nature of the adversary and the geopolitical setting all describe a completely different operating environment.  Also, with the change of political parties in the U.S. and with the U.S. facing significant economic challenges, the domestic U.S. scene is completely different.  Some analysts believe that these circumstances make Afghanistan a more significant challenge than Iraq ever was.  Commentators Ralph Peters and French MacLean have described their views on the strategic situation.  Is Afghanistan more like Vietnam than Iraq?

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February 21, 2010 - Posted by | H300 | , , , , , , , , , , ,

11 Comments »

  1. Afghanistan is more like Vietnam than Iraq in the fact that the Taliban want to unite the country under their rule like the Viet Cong and NVA wanted to do. On the other hand the Taliban are not trying to champion a political ideology like Communism, they are trying to set up an Islamic Caliphate. The Taliban also have little compassion for the local populace that doesn’t support them smiliar to the disregard the Viet Cong and NVA had for the safety of the South Vietnamese populace. Finally, the sitting governments of both Afghanistan and South Vietnam did not always have their populace’s best interests at heart.

    Comment by Damon LaCour | February 28, 2009

  2. In comparison to Vietnam, Aghanistan has many similiarities, but never more than the concept of the soldier-advisor. Just like Vietnam, the US Army placed little attention in the early years of the Afgahnistan Global War on Terrorism to the proper training and selection of Transition Teams. The US Army did not have standing organization to support the robust cultural training required to operate in the theatre of operations until 1st ID assumed the role in late 2004. Although the US Army attempted to fill necessary positions with properly skilled soldiers, shortages of junior officers across the board resulted in mismatch of experience across every level of transition and provincial reconstruction teams. Training for teams being prepared for advisory duty was also minimal for both conflicts, however unlike Vietnam the US Army has now recognized their importance and restructured the entire program with a minimum training time of 3 months under most cirumstances. The uphill battle of recognition by both Vietnamese and Aghanistan people also bears significant review. Without proper guidance transition teams can quickly become ineffective. There responsibity for support during both conflicts can not be underestimated. During both wars, local populace did understand their importance but were quick to judge their reliability of counsel if these foreign advisors were unable to understand political and social ramifications of the regions to which they worked. The endstate with use of transition teams in Aghanistan is clear. If the US Army is able to properly harness the best qualified officers to assign the role of the soldier-advisor, there are much higher levels of potential long term success, if they continue to be implemented in such a way that they can properly communicate with both their Aghanistan counterparts and BCTs that in place to support them.

    Comment by MAJ Christopher Thompson | March 4, 2009

  3. Whenever I hear a comparison of Vietnam to another conflict, I am immediately suspect that the underlying question really is “are we doomed to failure in this conflict like we were doomed to failure in Vietnam?” Unfortunately, this question seems to miss several of the nuances of the Vietnam War that set the conditions for the eventual withdrawal of US forces from Vietnam. While I don’t profess to have an intimate understanding of these nuances, I do think there is great risk in making large-scale comparisons between two conflicts whose combined operations span nearly 20 years in two distinctly different decades in history.

    First, to be clear, I don’t think we are doomed to failure in Afghanistan (not do I believe we were ever doomed to failure in Vietnam). To me, the question is one of determining what our end state really is, ensuring the American people support it, and then objectively assessing the obstacles and challenges that face our efforts to achieve it. If the American people don’t support the end state, or if the administration isn’t willing to apply the necessary pressure to reach the objective, then likely the mission will fail.

    It is true that Aghanistan is different than Iraq. It’s true the Soviets’ conflict in Afghanistan cost them dearly. Neither of these facts have anything to do with an objective analysis of the situation the US faces there today. However, some key questions have to be answered if we are going to prevail–questions that weren’t answered in a favorable way in Vietnam. Are we going to allow the enemy sanctuary in neighboring countries? To what extent will our military leaders be impeded by political constraints on their operations? Is the conflict necessary to defend America’s vital interests? What is the end state desired?

    Afghanistan isn’t Vietnam any more than Iraq was the Bay of Pigs. Regardless, it is important for our political and military leaders to understand why we failed in Vietnam and our level of tolerance for similar issues in the current fight.

    Comment by Randy | March 6, 2009

  4. If I had to pick I would say that Afghanistan is more like Vietnam than Iraq. In both situations we see nations that are deeply divided and have failed and corrupt governments. The forces that we encountered are comfortable fighting foreign forces and utilize terrain to escape across borders to refuges. We also see significant restraints on reaching out a touching the enemy while they are in these safe havens.

    Comment by Richard Myers | March 10, 2009

  5. When we look at Afghanistan, we find it almost like Vietnam in some things, but different type of the Afghan people than the Vietnamese in terms of principles and religion, and looking at the history of warfare in Afghanistan has given the Afghan people and not to fear the force in the future. And the continued attachment to the tribal system in Afghanistan, the Afghan government in control of Kabul, the capital and surrounding areas only, but other areas controlled by Taliban forces and they are familiar with the region very well. As well as the Afghan people, which between twenty and forty years old, they grow up with the principles that have given by their leaders in the Taliban forces are difficult to change this thinking, even with the passage of time.

    Comment by khalil alshatti | March 26, 2009

  6. Clearly Aghanistan is more like Vietnam than Iraq. For one the mountaneous terrain is much like dense jungles of Vietnam, the enemy clearly has the advantage over U.S forces. We are not able to fully use all of our ISR assets and combat multipliers to identify key enemy strongholds due to high altitudes in those mountainous regions. Secondly until we are able to limit the enemies logistical re-supply via Pakistan and Iran across the borders, we will continue fight a well equipped enemy much like we encountered in Vietnam with Viet Cong and NLF. The insurgents in Iraq are unlike those in Afghanistan with the tribes in Pakistan, in the fact that they have very limited resources and are clearly not fully supported by the populace in many cases in Iraq. The insurgents in Afghanistan will continue to thrive as they did during the Russian, Afghanistan War and the enemy in Vietnam if we are not able to limit their resupply operations.

    Comment by MAJ Dewayne Bailey | March 27, 2009

  7. I agree with my predecessors here at CGSC that Afghanistan is much more like Vietnam than Iraq ever was. Even the topography of the country is closer to Vietnam than Iraq. Also if we substitute political ideology for religious ideology than the similarities are even more pronounced. I can also draw a parallel from the NVA & Viet Cong of Vietnam to Al Qaeda and Warlords in Afghanistan. Another similarity I can make, deals with our not studying or heeding the messages of history. In Vietnam we didn’t learn from the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu specifically or Indo-China in general. While in Afghanistan we seem to not have learned from the Russian defeat there in 1989. I can only hope as our focus and power shifts from Iraq to Afghanistan under the new administration that we learn from the past to project our efforts correctly in the future.

    Comment by MAJ Christopher "Kit" Johnson | August 20, 2009

  8. I believe that Afghanistan is more like Vietnam than Iraq. Similarities include: a government that we wanted gone even though we had initially been an “ally” – the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Communist in North Vietnam (I understand we supported Saddam at one time). Also, we see the enemy using border regions as safe havens – Pakistan in the Afghan war and Laos and Cambodia in Vietnam. We also did not initially pursue the enemy into these areas, but eventually did so – whether on foot or via UAS. And, much like Vietnam, favorable public opinion is wavering since we have been there for nearly nine years. Although strides have been made – just as in Vietnam – the public does not see this and tends to focus more on casualty figures (friendly).

    Comment by Jason Taylor 17B | February 21, 2010

  9. In Afghanistan, the designated enemies are remnants of the weakened al-Qaida network and the native Taliban, which has been growing in strength despite the eight-year war started by President Bush in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 2001 events.
    In his remarks at West Point, President Obama rejected any comparison between Afghanistan and Vietnam, calling it “a false reading of history.” He claimed that the U.S. effort in Afghanistan is supported by “a broad coalition of 43 nations,” that “unlike Vietnam, we are not facing a broad-based popular insurgency” and, unlike Vietnam, “the American people were viciously attacked from Afghanistan.” Well….that is true in some sense and not so in others….
    As we discussed in class the U.S. effort in Vietnam had its own coalition of anti-communist allies, including South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and Laos. As is the case in Afghanistan, the U.S. provided vastly more manpower than any of its allies in the Vietnam War.
    There is another huge similarity between the U.S. war in Afghanistan and the Vietnamese War. In both cases, the American people became fed up with pouring more and more men and women and money into wars that went on for years, with no end in sight. (We’ve been in Afghanistan for over eight years; U.S. military involvement in Vietnam also lasted eight years, 1965-1973.)
    War fatigue in the U.S. is aggravated by the devastating 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, where we still have more than 100,000 military personnel and where we have lost more than 4,000 Americans. President Obama omitted the single biggest difference between Vietnam and Afghanistan when he failed to mention that the military draft was roaring through every American town and suburb and city during the Vietnam War. Now, the U.S. military relies exclusively on a volunteer Army.
    The draft focused public attention and ultimately, public outrage on our strategy, our allies, the corrupt South Vietnamese leadership, the colonial legacy we inherited from the French and the failure of Presidents Johnson and Nixon to articulate credible goals that would justify the continued loss of lives. The American people ended up rejecting both the Vietnam War and the national leaders who took us there.

    Comment by MAJ Darin E. Huss | March 10, 2010

  10. I would like to argue the differences between the war in Vietnam and the war in Afghanistan.
    1. The terrain is different. Vietnam has tropical terrain with rainy seasons, extreme heat and humidity. Afghanistan is rugged terrain with mountains, no road networks and extreme temperature changes.
    2. The reason for the United States involvement is different. The United States entered Vietnam to stop the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia. The united States entered Afghanistan as a sworn enemy (Al-Qaeda) who attacked American soil and killed over 3000 Americans.
    3. The United States operational strategy is different. The operational strategy in Vietnam was to destroy the enemy (VC and North Vietnamese Army) without consideration of collateral damage to the population, homes and terrain. The operational strategy in Afghanistan is to neutralize the enemy while protecting the local population and facilities. On Sunday, Sept. 27 2009, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S commander in Afghanistan stated on “60 Minutes” “The only way to win is to earn the support of the people,” McChrystal explained. “Conventional military operations designed to kill the enemy can never win this war (Afghanistan). Destroying homes and accidentally killing civilians in the process only creates more insurgents and alienates the population.”

    Comment by MAJ Craig A. Porter 17C | February 17, 2011

  11. Does anyone see the similarities between the current troop withdraw course of action in Afghanistan and that which was conducted in Vietnam? No clear exit strategy, Poor National Policy, Generals advising against accelerated troop withdraws, HN security force not ready to take over, HN security force dependent upon US support, non-effective COIN strategy, enemy insurgent foot hold is greater than we anticipated, Enemy insurgents will remain when we leave, sanctuaries for enemy forces to hide,lack of unity of effort and command between military and civil/governmental organizations, the arrogant belief that US believes we can win this war if we throw enough money at it, lack of support from the US people to stay the course, US president concerned about re-election just to name a few… Ultimately, history will show that Afghanistan just like Vietnam was a failure.

    Comment by James Lucowitz | March 24, 2011


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