On April 30, 1975, the last evacuation flight left the roof of the US Embassy in Saigon. Along with the women and children evacuees the flight carried, it also carried the last vestige of hope for all the Vietnamese men and women left behind who’d aligned themselves with America during the war. For those left behind on the roof and waiting anxiously in the embassy courtyard cradling infants, babies and their worldly belongings, they could only watch in horror as the final flight scattered dust and debris as it disappeared forever inthe distance.
Many firsthand accounts described the scene. Shrouded in a strange silence that could have been shattered by the noise of a baby’s cry, a few hundred men women and children representative of thousands of others who’d not been able to reach the embassy gates, sank into immediate and devastating despair.
The source of their fear and hopelessness, the army of North Vietnam, as if on cue, rolled into view, filling the void of sound with the clattering noise of tank treads on pavement and the shouts of victorious North Vietnamese soldiers. All who remained knew their immediate and distant future would be characterized by pain and suffering. The fortunate ones among them would die quickly.
Those who served the Americans on the periphery — the café owners, launderers and barmaids –would be sent to spend years in reeducation camps. Those directly connected to the fight against North Vietnamese communism would be slaughtered abruptly … publicly and barbarically.
An objective examination of this cleansing by the army of Ho Chi Minh revealed that their actions, brutal as they were, in many ways were necessary. Those who’d worked and fought alongside America had been steeped in an anti-communist ideology; an ideology that had to be eradicated at all costs. If left alone, the danger of it taking hold and spreading was too great. The public, heartless manner of North Vietnam’s retaliatory killings sent a clear message.
… Fast forward
Today, the lesson from those tragic events is on the verge of happening all over again. America has an opportunity to recall and benefit from what we learned 40 years ago as similar events unfold in another part of the world in 2015. While the fall of Kabul may not precisely mirror that of Saigon, our departure from Afghanistan will trigger a response from Taliban and Islamic State (ISIS) forces that will most assuredly be familiar to us.
Unless we take all possible preventive measures, the two most devastating results of abandoning Afghanistan will be a similar political cleansing of our allies mostly in the south, in and around Helmand Province, and a sharp increase in the strength and ranks of the Taliban and ISIS. Additionally, most analysts agree these two enemies will be one in the same all too soon.
As for retaliatory action by hardline Taliban forces, a simple review of their history reveals not only their willingness, but their determination to exact revenge as a matter of course. When we are gone, only Afghan Security Forces will be available to prevent such a slaughter. Although there are many brave and committed soldiers among Afghanistan’s security forces, those who have been directly involved in training and mentoring them agree they are simply not ready for this challenge.
A common sense consideration of the potential resilience or lack thereof of Afghanistan’s security forces points directly to failure. Throughout history, the most lowly, insignificant member of every army has been the one most called upon to risk his life and to die in battle. The most insignificant individuals in Afghanistan’s security forces is the lowest paid — when he is paid at all — the least appreciated, the most highly prone to desertion and surrounded by undisciplined soldiers and officers.
These men have fought so far primarily because they know a highly trained, highly equipped NATO force was either standing with them or close enough to be at their side if needed. But the world is soon going to ask these men to stand inthe void alone to fight an enemy that up until a few short years ago, in many cases, was their neighbor.
As has been proven by their history, the Taliban and ISIS will offer a much more lucrative package to these insignificant members of Afghanistan’s security forces to bring their weapons and join them. And, if history is any indication, many will take them up on the offer, rather than put themselves and their families at risk.
Some years ago America institutedthe Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program to assist Afghanis who’d put themselves at risk for NATO forces to immigrate to America. The program has had some success, but like most things attempted in Afghanistan, it’s been riddled with corruption and mismanagement.
Complicating this praiseworthy effort is the ever increasing number of illegal immigrants who cross our southern border costing millions that could be used to assist those who actually fought for us. At best however, SIV will address only a small portion of individuals at risk.
America is poised to make the same errors in Afghanistan that we made in Vietnam. Unless we take the necessary steps, many Afghans who trusted us will die, and those who don’t will be left with unspeakable choices once we are no longer there to stand in the void.
No one can argue the fact we went to Afghanistan for a just cause. We as a nation had every legal and moral right to strike back against those who facilitated and supported the attack on 9/11. The only thing we can do now is take responsibility for our actions in Afghanistan. We must resolve to stay there as long as it takes to finish the job.
Leaving now will be politically expedient for some, and may satisfy those who naively believe we can take a back seat in the war against Islamic jihadism, but it will be a mistake from which we will swiftly suffer the consequences. The only viable alternative is to keep a substantial force in Afghanistan indefinitely.
Steps taken and decisions made now on the ground in Afghanistan should be left completely up to our military commanders, and any intrusion on the part of politicians and civilians in Washington should be considered acts of treason and prosecuted as such.
There are, in fact, no alternatives. We either leave, and allow our allies in Afghanistan to suffer the consequences — fully aware that we at home will also suffer as a result of the strengthening of our enemies — or we resolve to stay and remain militarily involved for as long as it takes.
There are no other options.
Contributing Writer Godfrey Garner is a veteran special operations counterintelligence officer who retired from US Special Forces in 2006. He served two military tours and six civilian government related tours in Afghanistan. His work there most recently was as a counter-corruption analyst. Garner previously wrote about jihadi groups’ unification in his Homeland Security Today report, The Potential that Jihadi Groups will Unify … and With it, More Savagery. Garner also is author of, Danny Kane and the Hunt for Mullah Omar, and, The Balance of Exodus.