The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, December 2, 2001

Combating terrorism with terrorism
Joginder Singh Bedi

TO avenge the dreaded attack on the two WTC towers and Pentagon military headquarters on September 11 the USA, has waged a fierce war against the Taliban of Afghanistan. The land-locked soil of Afghanistan has been targeted by the American bombers, destroying the airports and razing to the ground a large number of buildings, offices and hospitals in the main provinces of the country. Even residential areas are not being spared by the bombers which have been pounding, day and night, every inch of the land to capture Osama bin Laden. The official spokespersons of America say that: "It is a war against international terrorism", whereas the majority of the Muslims the world over hold the view that it is a war against Islam".

Residential areas of Hanoi were repeatedly bombed by American bombers during 1964-75
Residential areas of Hanoi were repeatedly bombed by American bombers during

For how long would the war continue and what is the ulterior motive of America behind the ‘war’ is still not clear. The Taliban ambassador in Pakistan repeatedly says that ‘America would never be successful in opening the lock of the land of Afghanistan and it would miserably fail in its mission in exactly the same way the British and Russian forces had failed earlier.

Since experts on war equate the style of America’s war against Afghanistan with that of the Vietnam War it would be quite relevant here to recall the history of the Vietnam War which is recorded as the "longest war" ever fought by America in its history.


History has it that after Japan surrendered in 1945, the French sought to retain Vietnam, once part of Indochina, but were opposed by Ho Chi Minh and the Communist-supported Vietminh. Indecisive fighting led to the smashing defeat of French troops at Dien Bien Phu (1954); and a peace conference at Geneva partitioned the nation at the 17th parallel. In 1955, the then Premier Ngo Dinh Diem overthrew Emperor Bao Dai, but could not suppress the guerrilla tactics of the Vietcong. Fearing that if South Vietnam fell so would the entire South-East Asia, America sent some 500 ‘advisors’ to train the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). By 1963, the number of advisors had risen to 15,000 and American Army Green Beret troops became involved in mountain skirmishes to aid the Montagnards. After a military coup ousted Diem in 1963, a series of military governments followed as the fighting escalated with the American troops gradually becoming committed to actual combat.

As the American aid became major, units from the north began to infiltrate the south. In 1964, in an action much disputed, North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked America naval units in the Gulf of Tonkin, and President Lyndon B. Johnson obtained the Tonkin Resolution from the Congress authorising him to take military action to defend America and allied forces in Vietnam. The bombings of the Demilitarised Zone, DMZ, followed. In 1968, the fiercest fighting of the war occurred in the Tet offensive, mounted by the Vietcong on a major Vietnam holiday. American troops were directly involved in the battle to recapture Hue, a principal religious city on the coast, and America began to bomb the Ho Chi Minh trail in neighbouring Cambodia to interdict supplies from the north. Seeking to force the north to the peace table, President Richard M. Nixon ordered the bombing of Haiphong and the northern capital of Hanoi in 1972. Meanwhile, as opposition to the commitment of 550,000 American troops grew at home, American ground forces were slowly withdrawn.

Paris peace talks in 1973 were inconclusive, while the southern situation became even more precarious. An armoured invasion from the north in 1975 panicked ARVN forces, and the capital of Saigon fell to the north on April 30, 1975, ending the war. American troops and personnel were immediately evacuated, and some 140,000 South Vietnamese fled, most of whom were airlifted to America for resettlement.

It was the longest ‘war’ in American history. It cost the Americans 56,000 dead and more than $ 141 billion in war expenditure. Vietnamese casualties were estimated at 1.3 million.

In this longest war, the American forces suffered huge loss of life mainly because they couldn’t repel the guerrilla tactics of the Vietnamese soldiers. It is to be recalled here that the guerrilla war is a mode of harassing an army by small bands and it was first adopted by the Spaniards against the French in the Peninsular War. During the years 1804-14 this type of war was fought by the forces of Great Britain against Napolean’s marshals.

History repeats itself. Now the Taliban have posed an open challenge to America to fight on their land instead of dropping bombs from a high altitude. The Afghan soldiers, who are known for their masterly skill in guerrilla tactics, are quite confident that in such a battle the British, American and Israeli soldiers will be defeated with heavy casualty and losses, and at last they shall have to cut a sorry figure.

Although the outcome of the America-Afghanistan war can’t be ascertained at the moment, yet the right-thinking men in the world at large have started pondering over the vital issue viz Where does America err, in context of its previous performance in Vietnam.

It is commonly held that whatever America has done in Vietnam, Korea, Iraq and now in Afghanistan is nothing short of terrorism. That’s why Indian leaders have reiterated that as far as terrorism in the state of Jammu and Kashmir is concerned India has the capability to combat it and for this purpose no assistance from any country including the USA is required.