Afghanistan’s turning point: bring our troops home now


This morning (Sunday 15th April) there seems to be a coordinated attack by Taliban forces on targets in the Afghan capital Kabul, including the U.S. Embassy.

No doubt eventually these attacks will be repulsed, but nevertheless this is a significant turning point that prompts an obvious historical comparison.

In January 1968 (during the traditional Lunar New Year celebration known as Tet) Viet Cong insurgents backed by communist North Vietnam launched an offensive against South Vietnamese and American forces.  This went down in history as the Tet Offensive.

Major targets of the Tet Offensive included the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, the South Vietnamese presidential palace and the radio station.  Eventually the communist forces were beaten back with heavy casualties.  But this wasn’t the point.

The point was that while the American public were being told that the insurgents were being defeated and the situation was coming under control, the Tet Offensive proved that in fact the Viet Cong had the ability to strike even high profile targets in the capital.

It should then have become obvious that the Vietnam War was unwinnable, in that the Viet Cong could only be held at bay by continuing, indefinite commitment of U.S. troops.

So it is today in Afghanistan.  British and American forces are not going to be defeated in a conventional military sense.  But they aren’t going to defeat the Taliban either.

Today’s offensive should be recognised as the Afghan Tet.

Tragically the lesson wasn’t learned in 1968, and the Vietnam War continued until the ignominious American withdrawal in 1975.

Are our rulers going to wait another seven years, with countless further casualties, before a similar withdrawal from Afghanistan?  There is an alternative.  A troop withdrawal plan should begin imminently, accompanied by bringing in the two major regional powers – Russia and Iran – to broker an agreed peace settlement for Afghanistan and the Pakistan border region.

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