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Afghan Dilemma Recalls Vietnam Lessons

BY Dan Sagalyn  November 18, 2009 at 2:20 PM EST

U.S. troops in Afghanistan; Photo: AFP/Getty Images

As the Obama administration grapples with the question of whether to send more troops to Afghanistan, a number of historians have spoken about the similarities between the wars in Vietnam and Afghanistan.

This month the Military Review, the Army’s leading professional journal, published an article called “Refighting the Last War: Afghanistan and the Vietnam Template.” One of its authors, Thomas Johnson said many of the mistakes made in Vietnam are being repeated in Afghanistan.

Both wars took place in rugged terrains of Asia, thousands of miles from the United States, with 80 percent of the population in rural areas, said Johnson. Politically speaking, in South Vietnam and Afghanistan, both regimes were viewed as illegitimate by a vast majority of the population, he said.

“Many scholars have suggested that one of the prerequisites for a successful counterinsurgency is having a government or a governmental partner … that seems legitimate by 80 to 90 percent of the population, and that just doesn’t hold in Afghanistan,” he said.

More Afghan conversations:

Greg Jaffe, Washington Post Pentagon reporter

Matthew Hoh, former State Department official who resigned over Afghan policy

Marc Sageman, former CIA operative

Rory Stewart, author who spent two years walking across Afghanistan

Bruce Riedel, former CIA officer and author

Ashraf Ghani, former Afghan finance minister and presidential candidate