Vietnam’s Lessons For Afghanistan

OK, really, this is it until the beginning of September. This one was too important to pass up: an AP report that the ISAF leadership has reached out to Vietnam historian Stanley Karnow. Some of the report:

BRUSSELS (AP) — Top U.S. officials have reached out to a leading Vietnam war scholar to discuss the similarities of that conflict 40 years ago with American involvement in Afghanistan, where the U.S. is seeking ways to isolate an elusive guerrilla force and win over a skeptical local population.

The overture to Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Stanley Karnow, who opposes the Afghan war, comes as the U.S. is evaluating its strategy there.

President Barack Obama has doubled the size of the U.S. force to curb a burgeoning Taliban insurgency and bolster the Afghan government. He has tasked Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander, to conduct a strategic review of the fight against Taliban guerrillas and draft a detailed proposal for victory.

McChrystal and Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy to the country, telephoned Karnow on July 27 in an apparent effort to apply the lessons of Vietnam to the Afghan war, which started in 2001 when U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban regime in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

The report quotes Karnow, as well as James McAllister, a political scientist at Williams College, who pointed out – among other things – that:

– In both wars, security forces had an overwhelming advantage in firepower over lightly armed but highly mobile guerrillas.

– Insurgents in both cases were able to use safe havens in neighboring countries to regroup and re-equip.

-He pointed to McChrystal’s order to limit airstrikes and prevent civilian casualties, linking it to the overuse of air power in Vietnam which resulted in massive civilian deaths.

I predict this will inspire multiple doctoral dissertations in the next five years, comparing the two wars (and others). Good thing I’m ahead of the curve. 😉

Read the rest here. While we’re comparing COIN lessons, make sure you take a peak at this latest report from friend and colleague Bill Rosenau at RAND, co-authored by Austin Long: The Pheonix Program and Contemporary Counterinsurgency.

That’s it, I’m outta here. See you all in a month.

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