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Joe Galloway: Afghanistan smells like South Vietnam in 1965



By Joseph L. Galloway
McClatchy Newspapers

President Barack Obama this week announced that he was ordering an additional 17,000 American troops to Afghanistan, more than half the reinforcements that ground commanders have been seeking for months.

By providing that half a loaf, the new president hopes to buy some time to absorb and analyze new strategic studies on that long-dragging, long-neglected war that's been going south on us at an alarming pace.

America's ground commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. David McKiernan, welcomed the news of the reinforcements on their way this spring and summer, but in a frank assessment of the situation said we are "at best stalemated" in that war against a resilient home-grown enemy who's proving to be very adaptable and dangerous.

McKiernan added, in what may be an understatement, that, "Even with these additional forces, I have to tell you that 2009 is going to be a tough year."

Providing even the 17,000 new U.S. troops will add new stresses to the Army and Marines, who have to provide those forces even as Iraq continues to suck up most of our military manpower and a huge chunk of the Pentagon budget.

McKiernan said the additional U.S. forces would be sent to southern Afghanistan, where U.S. and NATO forces are stalemated in their war with the Taliban insurgents. He added that he hoped the reinforcements would allow him to make less use of U.S. airpower.

The shortage of ground troops has forced commanders to rely on American airstrikes in areas where that's the only option to fight the Taliban. The airstrikes are blamed for increased civilian casualties, which have angered the very population we want on our side.

The White House has signaled that it needs time to develop a comprehensive Afghanistan strategy, one that relies less on military firepower and pays more attention to nation-building in the war-ravaged country and diplomatic engagement with Afghanistan's neighbors.

It's been eight years since the U.S. invasion that toppled the Taliban government in the wake of 9/11 _ eight years of benign neglect of what arguably is the more important Afghanistan-Pakistan theater while former President George W. Bush diverted our resources and our attention to his war of choice in Iraq.

While our eyes were turned toward Iraq, the situation in Afghanistan has grown ever worse. The government of President Hamid Karzai has succeeded only in taking the definition of corruption to a new low, as his country has burnished its credentials as the world's largest producer of opium and heroin.

The Taliban now hold sway in two-thirds of the country, feeding on their share of the narcotics trade and operating from safe havens across the border in Pakistan. The insurgents are drawing a noose around Kabul, operating with impunity within a dozen miles of the capital.

Although the Bush administration's stated goal in Afghanistan was victory over the rebels and the creation of a functioning democracy, it starved the effort of money and troops and turned a blind eye to the spread of opium poppy fields and the narcotics trade.

What's desperately needed now is a far more subtle definition of what constitutes success in Afghanistan, with a simultaneous injection of aid projects that will improve the lot of a population that's endured more than three decades of war and civil war.
The greatest need of all is an exit strategy that takes into account the fact that Afghanistan is surrounded by neighbors, some of them predatory, who have a keen interest in the outcome _ Pakistan, Iran and Russia.

Meanwhile, U.S. commanders are stuck fighting a losing war in a landlocked country with long and insecure supply lines through Pakistan, where rebels and thieves pounce on the vulnerable convoys almost at will _ and more troops will need even more supplies.

To put it bluntly, Afghanistan today has the smell of South Vietnam in early 1965, just as the U.S. began ramping up for a war that would last a decade and cost the lives of more than 58,000 Americans and as many as 2 million Vietnamese before it ended in our defeat.

It's just one more incredible mess that President Obama has found waiting on his desk when he took office a month ago, and he understandably appears to want to tread very, very cautiously into this uncharted minefield.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    mcmill1599 · 11 years ago
    God help us all.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    CKIBAG · 11 years ago
    this time they are going to pull it off, they will 100% win the Afghamistan war within 5 years..
    all they have to do is use the iraq war surge & iraq war new tactics with new tactics for the large terrain in afghanistan;
    this way it will work i will not say what they are going to do,, but let me tell you this,,, if thew terrorist attack a bases on the border or anywhere in afghanistan, they will all be killed,,,,, lets just say this, it take 20 min for jetfighters to get to the bases,, the taliban attack for 10 min then run off before the jetfighter can get there; the new weapon with new tacktic will mean they are not going anywhere, the jet fighter with have all day to get there & kill them.... plus there is 4 more TACTICS THAT WILL CRUSH THE TALIBAN BIG TIME...
    THE AFGHANISTAN WAR IS ALREADY WON... have a geuess how come up with all of the iraq tactics,, it was not a american , a australian...
    • This commment is unpublished.
      paul · 4 years ago
      The fact is bush could have gotten bin laden and won the afgan war in 2004. he could have put all the resources into afganistan he wasted in Iraq and eliminated the Taliban. Lets face it George bush wet his bed when he was 10 years old and barbera spanked his ass in front of his war hero dad. It turned him into a sociopath, that's why America went into Iraq.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    bill boyd · 11 years ago
    Joe has seen a lot of war, hoeever he has a LIBERAL mindset and not one of winning. We were'nt defeated in Vietnam, we surrenderred with the assistance in 5 th column tactics by Joe's own media. The American people are excessively suscepetable to propoganda by the media.

    Afg. is winnable if we just grit our teeth and KILL 'EM ALL and that may include a complete rework of a never functional Pak. The Musses must come to the understanding that if they even think of messing with us they will die. Even they don't want guaranteed death.
    • This commment is unpublished.
      paul · 4 years ago
      all the republican canidates want to privatize the VA. 57% of veterans say this indignation would sway them to vote for the opposing candidate. It is BETRAYAL to our veterans. What ISIS wants, ISIS is the republican guards and army that neocon facist GW disbanded is American boots on the ground. Learn the facts, you wont get them from fox news. Lets bury the legacy of the worst president in history. By the way, our current commander in chief had the balls to kill bin laben, that was justice, something GW lacks the courage and integrity to comprehend.

      If your out there Joe, thank you for your service. These republican pusssies talk war. They have no knowledge or recollection of wars in our history
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Josh · 11 years ago
    As much as I respect your opinion and your service to report on our military in combat. This is the same thing you said about Iraq, pre-troop surge. None of these two combat areas resemble anything similar to Vietnam. The NVA was a regular standing army, which the Taliban is not, also by the time the Vietnam conflict was over the VC guerrillas were completely decimated and were hardly what what I would call an effective fighting force. Quit living in the past Joe.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    SeaVet · 11 years ago
    Joe-The novice in the White House, who said we should concentrate our efforts in Afganistan during his campaign, has already laid the seeds of defeat. Gen. McKiernan requested 30,000 troops for the upcoming spring and summer months when battles usually take place, he was authorized 17,000! Then he tells the pentagon to REDUCE their budget by $55 billion. Yeah, I guess that is Vietnam all over. That will be the result.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ares · 11 years ago
    Joe was a defeatist in Iraq, was totally wrong and tends to always look at the gloomiest scenario. A safe landing is never reported.

    Though is looks bad in Afghanistan, it's not lost as long as we have Gates and Patreaus in charge. What will victory look like? Would it be OK if the Taliban shared power with Karzi as long as they didn't allow al Qaeda back in? I think it would be good enough.

    We're not going to fix Pakistan. That they will have to do on their own.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    James Thorn · 10 years ago
    The media, including Joe Galloway, are incredulous that their long reported collapse of effort in Iraq never took place. They are now focusing their doom and gloom assessments and desperately hoping for failure in Afghanistan so they can pin the blame on a political party which now is no longer in the driver's seat. I was in Iraq at the lowest ebb and my view was way, way different from that of the media. I was right, not them. When will the American people start listening to the boots instead of the talking heads?

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