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RefightingtheLastWar - Afghanistan and the Vietnam Template...

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Afghanistan and the Vietnam Template Thomas H. Johnson and M. Chris Mason Thomas H. Johnson is a research professor for the Department of Na- tional Security Affairs and director of the Program for Culture and Conflict Studies at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA. M. Chris Mason is a retired Foreign Service officer who served in 2005 as political officer for the PRT in Paktika and presently is a senior fellow at the Program for Culture and Conflict Stud- ies and at the Center for Advanced Defense Studies in Washington, DC. PHOTOS: My Tho, Vietnam, 5 April 1968. (NARA) A Soldier covers an injured comrade as a helicopter lands to evacuate the wounded after their armored vehicle hit an improvised explosive device in the Tangi Valley of Afghanistan's Wardak Province, 19 August 2009. (AP Photo, David Goldman) I T IS AN oft-cited maxim that in all the conflicts of the past century, the United States has refought its last war. A number of analysts and journalists have mentioned the war in Vietnam recently in connection with Afghanistan. 1 Perhaps fearful of taking this analogy too far, most have backed away from it. They should not—the Vietnam War is less a metaphor for the conflict in Afghanistan than it is a template. For eight years, the United States has engaged in an almost exact political and military reenactment of the Vietnam War, and the lack of self-awareness of the repetition of events 50 years ago is deeply disturbing. The Obama Administration deliberately took ownership of the Afghani- stan war in its first days in office by sending more troops and ordering multiple strategic reviews. In October, as this article is being written, the Obama Administration is engaged in a very public strategic review fol- lowing both a grim assessment from the President's hand picked theatre commander, General Stanley McChrystal, and an embarrassing election fiasco in Afghanistan. President Obama certainly knows, as Presidents Johnson and Nixon did in similar circumstances, that the choice of alter- natives now is between bad and worse. There is general agreement today, as indeed there was before the Diem Coup in 1963, that the war is going badly. Attacks of all types in Afghanistan have increased each year since 2003 and are up dramatically in 2009, the deadliest year yet for American forces. The Kabul government is so corrupt, dysfunctional, and incompetent that even its election rigging is buffoonish. The U.S. troop commitment has escalated steadily, a pattern familiar from the Vietnam War, and now the President must contemplate a request for another 40,000 U.S. troops or, in the words of General McChrystal's classified assessment leaked to the November-December 2009 • MILITARY REVIEW
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THE VIETNA M TEMPLATE A CH-47 Chinook helicopter lifts off a slingload of ammuni- tion from fire support base Myron in Cambodia, 24 June 1970. Washington Post,
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RefightingtheLastWar - Afghanistan and the Vietnam Template...

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