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Afghanistan - A Historical Perspective

Dispelling the Mythology
The swift response by the U.S. and her allies in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, has generated a host of thoughts, including inevitable comparisons with the Cold War failures of the superpowers, particularly the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan and America's intervention in Vietnam.

These two conflicts were strikingly similar in their causes, impact and prosecution, as well as in outcome. The Soviets, on the verge of collapse, pulled out of Afghanistan and entered a new world; the Americans, on the other hand, witnessed a change in public opinion which effectively forced a change in foreign policy. Both conflicts were heavy in costs (human life, resources and political will), and their historical shadows may influence the course of the present situation in Afghanistan.

However, as the comparisons below demonstrate, it is doubtful that "history will repeat itself," as the players, the forum, the casus belli and the stakes are all different. Only the geography remains the same.

 
 
The Players:
Large invading Soviet army
vs. the Afghani mujahideen

Incident that Sparked the Invasion:
Coup against Afghani King Daoud, 1978 -- Soviet support enlisted

The Terrain:
High desert, mountainous, broken country; dry climate with few major urban centers.

Strategic Justification:
Soviet fears of Islamic fundamentalism destabilizing the southern Soviet republics

Soviet Losses:
Total troops deployed: 116,000
Troops killed/missing: 14,000
Worst year: 1984 (2,343 killed)

Reasons for Failure:





Related Topics

History Special: The Cold War
Afghanistan Maps

The Players:
South Vietnam and the United States
vs. North Vietnam and the Viet Cong

Incident that Sparked the Intervention:
The Tonkin Gulf Incidents, 1964 -- alleged attacks against U.S. naval units

The Terrain:
Mountainous highlands; cultivated, jungle and riverine inlands; several urban centers (Saigon, Hue, etc.)

Strategic Justification:
U.S. fears of the so-called Communist "domino effect" in southeast Asia

U.S. Losses:
Total troops deployed*: 8,744,000
Troops killed in action: 47,369
Worst year: 1968 (16,592 killed)

*This figure is cumulative, and includes all rotations of troops during the conflict

Reasons for Failure:


Related Topics

History Special: Vietnam
History Archive: Vietnam
History Links: Vietnam

The Players:
United States and select allies
vs. entrenched militant organizations backed by the Taliban government

Incident that Sparked the Retaliation:
The September 11, 2001 bombings of the Pentagon and the World Trade Center

The Terrain:
High desert, mountainous, broken country. Isolated outposts and possibly selected government facilities

Reasons for Success:



Related Topics

America's New War
Tracking bin Laden
Homeland Defense
The Terrorist Attack: Aftermath
Afghanistan News
Terrorist Organization Reference
Maps of First U.S. Airstrike
Breaking Military News Alerts

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