Though US had lost many more troops in the Vietnam War than the Afghan war — in fact over 55,000 troops more — the real loss in Afghanistan is much bigger. While Vietnam War was basically about a communism vs capitalism conflict, the war in Afghanistan owes its origin to control spread of terrorism across the world.
One was a decision made by political elite, the other was forced by humanitarian concerns and the sudden decision of the US to vacate Afghanistan simply into the hands of a fundamentalist insurgent organisation Taliban, which is also a dreaded terror group, has created the real possibility of the worst humanitarian crisis soon.
As per US Congressional Research Service, US war spending, in 2019 US dollar term, was $843.63 billion in the Vietnam War. The country was directly engaged in the war for 11 years that saw 58,220 US military deaths. The economic cost went as high as 2.3% of GDP in 1968.
The Afghanistan war has cost more than the Vietnam War or $910.47 billion in 2019 US dollar value while the total US investment in Afghanistan may be around $2 to $3 trillion dollars as per different estimates.
But in terms of human cost of lives, America lost 2,448 soldiers in last 20 years, a casualty figure much less than the Vietnam War. Also, according to a research from the Voice of America, 3,846 US Contractors, 1,144 other allied troops and 444 humanitarian aid workers have also lost their lives during these 20 years. While at its peak, there were over 5,00,000 troops in Vietnam, the Afghanistan peak was around 1,00,000 troops.
North Vietnam had a communist government supported by China and USSR. South Vietnam adopted a western democracy style. North Vietnam wanted total unification of the country that resulted in a war with US resolving not to let communism spread.
The Vietnam War, spread across three countries — Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia — began in 1954 and got over after two decades in 1975 with communist government in all three countries. But a humiliated US army had already withdrawn early, in 1973, after facing huge loss and US seeing protests across the country against participation in the war with thousands of American soldiers dead. Also, US adopted some brutal war strategies like using chemical weapons to clear dense forests and crop fields of Vietnam that were used by Vietnamese soldiers waging guerilla warfare technique.
The war in Vietnam was a strategic one, between communism and capitalism, with no humanitarian angle involved. The reason for US entering the Vietnam war was the fear that communism may spread to the whole of Asia once the communist North Vietnam win South Vietnam. US first supported South Vietnam with financial and military help like thousands of military advisers and supplies followed by a direct entry even if it was supporting a corrupt government there against which much of the South Vietnamese population was rebelling or willing to rebel. The people there, in fact, supported North Vietnam.
So, the decision to start the Vietnam War had actually nothing to do with affairs and interests of the common people but the war in Afghanistan against Taliban and Al Qaeda, the perpetrator of the 9/11 attack, had support of the people worldwide after terrorists killed 2,977 Americans in a series of terror strikes in US on September 11, 2001.
By taking a decision to withdraw from the Vietnam War, US tried to save its face and moral courage but in case of Afghanistan, the US decision seems awfully miscalculated.
While America and in fact many countries across the world appreciated the US withdrawal then, from the Vietnam War, the decision to completely withdraw from Afghanistan is being widely criticised in America and across the world with swift Taliban takeover, particularly with fact that the war in Afghanistan began with high hopes of ending the run of terror in the world after the 9/11 terror attacks in the US.
The decision by US President Joe Biden may make the world a far more dangerous place now. Afghanistan may again become a safe haven for terror groups like it was till 2001. Al Qaeda was invited to make Afghanistan its base after Taliban took over the country in 1996 and its 3,000 terrorists were subsequently part of the Taliban security mechanism in the country. We cannot deny the possibility that Taliban may soon again be a base for Al Qaeda and ISIS, the terror groups operating globally.
The US President and policymakers kept on giving false hopes to the world that Afghan forces, trained and equipped by the US, were now ready to take on Taliban and other terror groups on its own. They assured that in spite of the troop withdrawal, US was going to stay in Afghanistan as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last month: “We are staying, our embassy is staying, our programs are staying”. A rapid Taliban seize means they were not aware of the ground realities.
Taliban didn’t accept the terms of agreement with the US for peaceful political settlement and in fact has taken over the complete control of the country, asserting openly that we have won the war and US has lost. Clearly, they have not respected the agreement signed with the US.
So, there is no guarantee that Afghanistan will not be terror hub again. And if it happens so, only US will be responsible for it.