A Tale of Two Withdrawals: Why Soviet and US Pull-Outs From Afghanistan Were So Different

Washington’s disorganised and haphazard pull-out from Kabul comes in sharp contrast to how the USSR left the country in February 1989, says American independent journalist Max Parry, recalling how the US political establishment tried to create a Vietnam-style Afghan quagmire for the Soviets, but eventually fell into its own trap.

On 15 August, the US hastily evacuated its embassy staff from the Afghan capital of Kabul as the Taliban* entered the city.

Viral image of a US military helicopter flying over the embassy evoked strong memories of the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975, prompting media pundits and social media users to draw parallels between the US’ Vietnam War and the protracted 20-year-long Afghan campaign. In April 1975, Dutch photographer Hubert van Es took a picture of people scaling a ladder to a US helicopter on a rooftop in Saigon, at the end of the Vietnam War.

​It appears that the White House was not prepared for a yet another “Saigon moment” last Sunday: on 12 August, US intelligence services forecast that Kabul would fall in 90 days; then they corrected their prognosis to 72 hours. However, the capital fell quicker than that, and weeks ahead of the scheduled deadline, triggering the collapse of the Ashraf Ghani government and panic at Kabul Airport. 

Ironically, over 40 years ago Washington planned to create a similar “Vietnamese quagmire” for the USSR in Afghanistan. Operation Cyclone aimed at arming and funding Afghan insurgents had been launched…

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