Why the Taliban’s control over Afghanistan is worse than the fall of Saigon

In recent days, our television screens have filled with images of the disturbing scenes unfolding in Afghanistan.

With the Taliban’s takeover of the country now almost complete in just a matter of weeks, thousands of Afghans have fled to Kabul airport in the hope of being evacuated along with civilians and foreign military forces.

In the age of smartphones and mobile internet, we’ve seen heart-wrenching scenes unfold just minutes after they’ve happened.

Runways filled with Afghan civilians climbing to board US Air Force transport planes, Apache helicopters buzzing the runway to clear them for take-off and perhaps more tragically, several Afghans have died from a transport plane during take off.

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Despite the extremely difficult circumstances on the ground and the airport compound being surrounded by the Taliban, more American and Australian troops are moving towards Kabul to rescue stranded civilians and refugees.

The collapse of the Afghan army and government, followed by the disastrous evacuation of civilians and refugees, has been compared to the fall of Saigon in 1975, when South Vietnam fell to North Vietnamese forces.

But the two events may not have as much in common as they might at first glance.

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The final evacuation of American forces, refugees and foreign nationals from Saigon took place over two days, from the grounds of the Defense Attaché’s office and the gardens of the American Embassy.

When Saigon fell, two US Navy aircraft carrier battle groups were present not far from the shore, along with dozens of other warships. Nearby, two other carrier strike groups stood ready to provide logistical and air support for the ongoing evacuation.

This led to some of the most iconic footage from the entire Vietnam War, as South Vietnamese military helicopters were pushed from flight decks into the sea to make room for others to disembark more refugees. .

The Mekong River flowing through Saigon also provided a valuable escape route for South Vietnamese refugees, who were able to board boats and sail to the standby US fleet.

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The besieged defenders of Kabul airport have none of these advantages and are stranded about 100 km from the borders of neighboring Pakistan.

The only huge advantage they currently have is the runway in good condition, giving Allied forces the ability to facilitate the departure of large numbers of people on fixed-wing aircraft.

Pentagon estimates suggest that up to 5,000 people can be evacuated from the airport per day, as long as the runways remain clear and free from damage.

In order to ensure that the evacuation can take place safely, the United States has reached an agreement with the Taliban to ensure that passage out of the Kabul airport can be done without interference.

According to an Associated Press report, the two sides have apparently agreed to a “deconfliction mechanism” in which operations at Kabul airport are allowed to continue.

While it was not in the Taliban’s best interests to prevent the evacuation, the idea that more than 10,000 Americans would actually be left at the mercy of the Taliban was unthinkable at the start of the war to oust them from power there. almost 20 years ago.

Yet here we are.

About 7,000 US troops, along with those from allied nations such as Australia, will defend an airport perimeter of more than 10 km for potentially weeks, depending on the number of Afghan refugees evacuated.

In contrast, the last stage of the American evacuation of Saigon took place from the lawns and roof of the American Embassy, ​​an area of ​​just over one hectare, surrounded by a high wall.

For those still stranded in Afghanistan and the Allied troops currently there, the coming weeks should be a nervous wait, as the evacuation continues in an effort to clear tens of thousands of people safely. security, under extremely difficult circumstances.

From Afghan refugees preventing operations from re-filling the runways, to concerns about rogue Taliban commanders failing to keep their superiors’ word, Kabul airport defenders face a difficult time in the days to come.

While the current situation in Afghanistan may appear, on the surface, similar to the fall of Saigon, in reality it is much worse.

It took two years of heavy fighting for the South Vietnamese forces to be exhausted by the North Vietnamese.

The Afghan army, for its part, withdrew in a few weeks.

Ultimately, this collapse and the utter lack of preparation by U.S. and Allied officials created a situation that is arguably worse than the fall of Saigon.

And the world is watching.

Tarric Brooker is a freelance journalist and social commentator | @AvidCommenter

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