Monday Reads: Goodnight Kabul

Nik Wheeler/Corbis/Getty Images The conflict in Vietnam ended in 1975 with the largest helicopter evacuation of its kind in history.

Good Morning Sky Dancers!

Well, this is a sight I thought I’d never see again, but then, back in 2001, I really expected a complete failure in the Afghanistan theatre eventually. We join some of the greatest armies of their time in that failure. History never teaches much to chickenhawks like Dick Cheney, who dodged the draft with five deferments. Unlike Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld actually had a three-year stint in the military about when I was born.  He was a navy pilot and instructor. Rumsfeld was basically the failed architect of the seemingly endless war in Afghanistan and recently died, so he doesn’t have to see the fall of Kabul unless in his particular hell realm they have CNN on an endless loop.

I was at university when Saigon fell.  Like everything else about the Vietnam war, it was televised during your mealtimes. I asked my ex-husband if this meant I could finally burn his draft card. He held onto it for a while before I finally took it and incinerated it in a fired-up grill.

The dulcet tones of “White Christmas” that crackled over Armed Forces Radio airwaves on April 29, 1975, failed to spread cheer across sunbaked Saigon. Instead, the broadcast of the holiday standard after the announcement that “the temperature in Saigon is 105 degrees and rising” instilled fear and panic in all who recognized the coded signal to begin an immediate evacuation of all Americans from Vietnam.

Although the United States had withdrawn its combat forces from Vietnam after the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in 1973, approximately 5,000 Americans—including diplomats, marine guards, contractors and Central Intelligence Agency employees—remained. President Richard Nixon had secretly promised South Vietnam that the United States would “respond with full force” if North Vietnam violated the peace treaty. However, after the Watergate scandal forced Nixon to resign, the North Vietnamese Army felt emboldened to launch a major offensive in March 1975.

“From Hanoi’s point of view, the turmoil leading up to and including Nixon’s resignation was an opportunity to take advantage of a distracted United States,” says Tom Clavin, co-author of Last Men Out: The True Story of America’s Heroic Final Hours in Vietnam. “North Vietnam never intended to abide by the 1973 agreement—its ultimate mission was to unify the country—but the political crisis in America allowed them to move up their timetable.”

Taliban fighters in Kabul, the capital, on Sunday on a Humvee seized from Afghan forces. The speed of the Taliban’s sweep through the country startled American officials. Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

The Bodega on the corner is run by a family around my age. There is a grandmother and a grandson.  I’ve never really asked the grandmother or the parents about Vietnam, but I know they are part of the large diaspora of South Vietnamese that landed here.  My French teacher was in Saigon when it fell. I’ve seen his photos and listened to his stories, although I’m not really sure how he and his Vietnamese bride got out of there.  It’s actually getting difficult to find Vietnamese Veterans these days who will share their stories. But they’re out there still.

What will we say about the Fall of Kabul 45 years from now? I’ll not be around for that, but my children and grandchildren will, climate change willing. The Taliban swept through the country and took Kabul on Sunday.  From the New York Times: “Kabul’s Sudden Fall to Taliban Ends U.S. Era in Afghanistan. A takeover of the entire country was all but absolute as the Afghan government collapsed and the U.S. rushed through a frenzied evacuation.” 

Taliban fighters poured into the Afghan capital on Sunday amid scenes of panic and chaos, bringing a swift and shocking close to the Afghan government and the 20-year American era in the country.

President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan fled the country, and a council of Afghan officials, including former President Hamid Karzai, said they would open negotiations with the Taliban over the shape of the insurgency’s takeover. By day’s end, the insurgents had all but officially sealed their control of the entire country.

The speed and violence of the Taliban sweep through the countryside and cities the previous week caught the American military and government flat-footed. Hastily arranged American military helicopter flights evacuated the sprawling American Embassy compound in Kabul, ferrying American diplomats and Afghan Embassy workers to the Kabul military airport. At the civilian airport next door, Afghans wept as they begged airline workers to put their families on outbound commercial flights even as most were grounded in favor of military aircraft.

Amid occasional bursts of gunfire, the whump of American Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters overhead drowned out the thrum of traffic as the frenzied evacuation effort unfolded. Below, Kabul’s streets were jammed with vehicles as panic set off a race to leave the city.

Two decades after American troops invaded Afghanistan to root out Qaeda terrorists who attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, the American nation-building experiment was in ruins — undercut by misguided and often contradictory policies and by a relentless insurgency whose staying power had been profoundly underestimated by U.S. military planners.

More than 2,400 American troops gave their lives and thousands more were wounded in an effort to build a democratic Afghan government. Tens of thousands of civilians died in the fighting, and thousands more were displaced from their homes. In recent days alone, thousands fled to Kabul as the Taliban advanced through other cities at breakneck speed.

Evacuation of Kabul (Left) and Fall of Saigon (Right). Picture: Collected

This entire 20-year ordeal didn’t have to happen. Much like I still can’t figure out what the hell the point of the Vietnam “conflict’ was about.   This New York Times Analysis offers some insight: ” Taliban Sweep in Afghanistan Follows Years of U.S. Miscalculations. An Afghan military that did not believe in itself and a U.S. effort that Mr. Biden, and most Americans, no longer believed in brought an ignoble end to America’s longest war.”

 President Biden’s top advisers concede they were stunned by the rapid collapse of the Afghan army in the face of an aggressive, well-planned offensive by the Taliban that now threatens Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital.

The past 20 years show they should not have been.

If there is a consistent theme over two decades of war in Afghanistan, it is the overestimation of the results of the $83 billion the United States has spent since 2001 training and equipping the Afghan security forces and an underestimation of the brutal, wily strategy of the Taliban. The Pentagon had issued dire warnings to Mr. Biden even before he took office about the potential for the Taliban to overrun the Afghan army, but intelligence estimates, now shown to have badly missed the mark, assessed it might happen in 18 months, not weeks.

Commanders did know that the afflictions of the Afghan forces had never been cured: the deep corruption, the failure by the government to pay many Afghan soldiers and police officers for months, the defections, the soldiers sent to the front without adequate food and water, let alone arms. In the past several days, the Afghan forces have steadily collapsed as they battled to defend ever shrinking territory, losing Mazar-i-Sharif, the country’s economic engine, to the Taliban on Saturday.

Mr. Biden’s aides say that the persistence of those problems reinforced his belief that the United States could not prop up the Afghan government and military in perpetuity. In Oval Office meetings this spring, he told aides that staying another year, or even five, would not make a substantial difference and was not worth the risks.

In the end, an Afghan force that did not believe in itself and a U.S. effort that Mr. Biden, and most Americans, no longer believed would alter the course of events combined to bring an ignoble close to America’s longest war. The United States kept forces in Afghanistan far longer than the British did in the 19th century, and twice as long as the Soviets — with roughly the same results.

No matter how much you call it ‘nation-building,’ it still winds up to be colonization. That part of the world has had its history full of that.  Please read this thread. I unrolled it here. It documents–in 7 tweets with sources–why it should’ve never happened.

So, there will be a lot more happening, and I’m sure the discussion will be brisk. Please add anything interesting you’ve read on seen or your thoughts, please!

What’s on your reading and blogging list?

43 Comments on “Monday Reads: Goodnight Kabul”

  1. dakinikat says:

    Have a good week! Just keep focused on the moment and the daily joys! Take care!!!

  2. dakinikat says:

    • dakinikat says:

      Okay, I’m crying now …

      • quixote says:

        I get it, on one hand. But given what is and is going to happen to the people, especially women, who helped the US and whom the US hasn’t evacuated (yet anyway), this isn’t going to look like the US’ finest moment. Not from the Afghan perspective.

        • djmm says:

          Great post and comments. I am old enough to remember Saigon as well and know people who were able to leave.

          Of course, this disaster was set up by former President Trump and his decision to hold direct talks with the Taliban. And after this and what happened to the Kurds, will allies and potential allies trust us?

          I understand the decision to leave but the way the departure was handled was shameful. Advisors who told the President that we would have more time should resign to spend more time with their families. President Biden needs to consult advisors who have been warning that this is exactly what would happen.

          And yes, Mullah Omar of the Taliban was supporting Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, though there were others that did not. We never bothered our heads to understand the complex culture and competing ideals of the Afghan people. We lost the effort there when we invaded Iraq for no good reason.

        • dakinikat says:

      • Enheduanna says:

        Well that’s good at least. Blub.

        Dak – I think Vietnam was all about oil to be honest. Surprise!……not.

  3. MsMass says:

    This diary from democratic underground gives a somewhat current story of refugees from Vietnam and how they look at US. Current as in they’re reflecting now over the past.
    It gives some hope. for those who survive the overthrow of the gov’t, even if the story is
    not 100% true.

  4. dakinikat says:

  5. dakinikat says:

  6. bostonboomer says:

  7. bostonboomer says:

    • bostonboomer says:

      • quixote says:

        The Shrub gets most of the blame. But don’t forget that Ronnie Raygun sowed the seeds. Those dreadful commies rolled into Afghanistan (no argument, they were a motorised war crime) and the first priority was to own them.

        So instead of any long slow process that strengthened *secular* Afghanis, Ronzo funded the mujaheddin. Islamist loonies who were the precursors of the Taliban.

  8. bostonboomer says:

  9. bostonboomer says:

  10. bostonboomer says:

    • bostonboomer says:

      • quixote says:

        This. Exactly.

        The Taliban weren’t the only turds Trump & Co. tried to leave in all the punchbowls, but they fit the pattern of all the others. E.g. trying to make sure the pandemic keeps killing people so they can blame Biden. DeJoy in the Post Office mucking things up that can then be blamed on Biden. etc etc. The only reason most of them didn’t work is because Biden seems to be a topnotch administrator.

  11. bostonboomer says:

    • bostonboomer says:

      The statement:

      At present we are completing a series of steps to secure the Hamid Karzai International Airport to enable the safe departure of U.S. and allied personnel from Afghanistan via civilian and military flights. Over the next 48 hours, we will have expanded our security presence to nearly 6,000 troops, with a mission focused solely on facilitating these efforts and will be taking over air traffic control. Tomorrow and over the coming days, we will be transferring out of the country thousands of American citizens who have been resident in Afghanistan, as well as locally employed staff of the U.S. mission in Kabul and their families and other particularly vulnerable Afghan nationals. And we will accelerate the evacuation of thousands of Afghans eligible for U.S. Special Immigrant Visas, nearly 2,000 of whom have already arrived in the United States over the past two weeks. For all categories, Afghans who have cleared security screening will continue to be transferred directly to the United States. And we will find additional locations for those yet to be screened.

  12. dakinikat says:

  13. dakinikat says:

    • djmm says:

      So glad The Washington Post is doing this — and glad that the dogs are getting out as well!!

  14. Virginia T Holder says:

    I attended college during the fall of VN. I had a photography teacher,former defense intelligence recon analyst. One of my classmates was a VN veteran,about 3 or 4 years older than me. Me,the vet& former recon photographer/ teacher were working late developing, trying to finish for an exam& exhibit. I overheard alot of their conversation…sitting in a darkroom,with the 2 ,I learned we were in VN for oil. Oil companies had the confirmation of geologic data, Gulf of Tonkin and voila!!! Besides,they were probably communists….

  15. dakinikat says:

  16. MsMass says:

    If you want to read an account of the efforts to fly people out of Kabul, check out this detailed article:

    640 people in a C 17 that usually carries 134 soldiers. Lots of planes. Refueling in midair, etc etc.

    • quixote says:

      I’m really glad to hear they’re (the US, and prob also others?) making a massive effort. This Dark Age takeover means there should be all the help in the world to get people out.