Wednesday, February 18, 2009


In a comment on Matt Steinglass's blog, a certain Nick spins out the parallels between U.S. engagement in Vietnam and in Afghanistan:

From what I’ve read, US troops [in Vietnam] generally had a 10:1 kill/loss ratio in confrontations with enemy fighters. So if we lost 58,000 men, presumably a good 580,000 Vietnamese soldiers were killed.

A 10:1 kill/loss ratio seems to be the standard number for US forces since world war II...But ...It doesn’t matter how many of the enemy you kill if they have more to replace them. Ho Chi Minh understood that Americans weren’t willing to sacrifice 100,000 men in Vietnam, but he was willing to sacrifice a million if he had to.

I believe WE lost the war because we weren’t able to defeat the north and make them stop attacking the weaker south. Now, arguably our hands were tied politically, since we couldn’t launch a full scale invasion of the north, for example. But that is irrelevant. You fight a war within certain political parameters which are there whether you like it or not. Within those parameters, the North Vietnamese were able to prevail.

Afghanistan is a similar situation. In fact, for years I’ve said we have a better shot in Iraq than we do in Afghanistan, even before the surge. This is because the problem with Iraq is mostly local, and non-ideological. Afghanistan is like Vietnam. In both, the ideology of our foes makes them willing to sacrifice tens of thousands of men for their cause. The Taliban are doing this in the name of religion; its harder to negotiate with them than the Sunnis in Iraq who were doing it for money and power.

But the most important similarity between vietnam and afghanistan is the sanctuary of insurgents...

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