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Fall of Saigon: When the US suffered a humiliating loss in Vietnam, and why Kabul is a reminder

As Afghanistan falls to Taliban, people recall how Saigon fell to communist regime and America had to scramble to evacuate its citizens just like they did yesterday in Kabul

Panic and chaos swept across Afghanistan’s capital Kabul on Sunday as Taliban poured into the city, bringing a swift and shocking close to the democratically elected Afghan government and the 20-year-long American war in the country.

The Taliban’s lightning-fast takeover of Afghanistan caught the US administration flat-footed, which then scrambled a chopper to evacuate the members of the US embassy that were stranded in Kabul. The US embassy members were ferried to the Kabul airport by the chopper.

The US state department on Monday morning said all American diplomats have been moved from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul to the capital city’s airport, following a chaotic day in which Taliban fighters entered the city and the Pentagon dispatched fresh troops to evacuate U.S. personnel and Afghan allies. A Defence Department official on Sunday informed that 1,000 troops are being sent to secure the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan.

“We can confirm that the safe evacuation of all embassy personnel is now complete,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement. “All embassy personnel are located on the premises of Hamid Karzai International Airport, whose perimeter is secured by the U.S. military.”

The photos of evacuation from the US embassy in Kabul bore a stark resemblance with the US withdrawal from Vietnam in 1975, leading many critics to call it Biden’s ‘Saigon moment’. Several social media users drew a parallel between the Afghanistan evacuation effort in Afghanistan and that in Saigon over four and a half decades ago.

US evacuation efforts in Kabul(Image Source: Twitter)

The captured pictures that are now doing the rounds on the internet depict a US military helicopter flying above the US embassy in Kabul, where a hasty evacuation effort was underway. However, for some observers, the images of evacuation in Afghanistan brought back the memories of the fall of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam war, when a similar chopper was used to evacuate Vietnamese partners gathered on the roof of a building near the US embassy in Saigon as North Vietnamese forces quickly overran the South Vietnamese capital.

Social media is rife with posts comparing the withdrawal of forces by Washington to the fall of Saigon, an uncannily similar crisis that befell on the United States 46 years ago when Saigon, the capital of the US-backed South Vietnam, fell to Communist-ruled North Vietnam two years after the withdrawal of the American forces that had been in the country for 19 years.

On April 30, 1975, the fall of Saigon marked the end of the Vietnam war, resulting in the victory of the Communists forces and their hold over the territory for the next few months. Similarly, as much as the pictures between the two evacuation efforts bear a resemblance, the analysts now believe that the Taliban could establish complete control over Afghanistan soon, eroding the 20 years of American efforts to bring democracy and stability to the region.

The Vietnam War

The Vietnam war was started in 1954 when North Vietnam’s infamous General Vo Nguyen Giap vanquished the French imperial troops at the famous strategic spot, Dien Bien Phu. While the US had been in the country for over a decade, it formally joined the war against the North Vietnamese force in 1965 under the leadership of President Lyndon B. Johnson.

At the height of the Vietnam war, the US had over 5 lakh troops posted in the country. Later when Richard Nixon was elected as the US President in 1969, he took over the mantle of the Vietnam War from his predecessor and continued catapulting the United States to one of the most embarrassing defeats in its history.

The war resulted in an astounding number of casualties for Americans and their South Vietnamese protégés. Termed as one of the bloodiest wars, the conflict resulted in over 58,000 Americans and 2,50,000 Vietnamese.

The Fall of Saigon

In January 1973, the United States and North Vietnam had signed an agreement, known as the Paris Peace Accords. Within two months of signing the accords, the war-weary American forces began pulling out of South Vietnam.

However, by 1974, North Vietnam violated the agreement and resumed its attack on South Vietnam. By then, most of the US military had been withdrawn from the country, leaving only approximately 5,000 American troops behind and the US diplomats working in the Saigon embassy. The condition was also exacerbated by the House of Representatives’ decision that rejected President Gerald Ford’s $300 million supplementary military aid bill for South Vietnam in March 1975.

Meanwhile, the North Vietnamese Army continued its offensive and capturing southern cities between March and April 1975, forcing South Vietnamese to flee in large numbers. Just like Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country as Taliban takeover became imminent, similarly. South Vietnam President Nguyen Van Thieu had also fled South Vietnam on 21 April 1975, after biding a tearful farewell address, in which he said the US had broken a pledge to intervene if North Vietnam violated the 1973 agreement, and had “pushed the South Vietnamese people to death”.

The North Vietnamese forces laid siege to Saigon on 29 April 1975, raining rockets and shelling artillery incessantly onto Tan Son Nhut Air Base. The attack sent a panic wave among the US embassy personnel and the remaining Americans. The United States sent its choppers to evacuate its embassy members and South Vietnamese supporters. Hours after a US chopper evacuated the last of a dozen Americans stranded in Saigon, the Communists captured the city.

American chopper flying over a building in Saigon to rescue stranded Americans(Image Source: New York Times)

The fall of Saigon or the capture of Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam by the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and the Viet Cong on 30 April 1975 marked the end of the Vietnam War and the start of a transition period to the formal reunification of Vietnam into the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

When Saigon fell to the Communist forces, TV and newspapers carried pictures of a large group of Americans, soldiers and civilians on the roof of the US embassy, waiting to be rescued by their country’s military choppers. As each helicopter was overfilled and rose a few feet from the US embassy building, several stranded people clung on its skids and lunged at the aircraft carrier before the chopper could land.

People in Saigon were desperate to board a US helicopter as Communists’ takeover of the city became inevitable(Source: The Washington Post)

The predicament in Afghanistan and the hasty pullout of US diplomatic members from the Kabul embassy has therefore rekindled the memories of the culmination of the Vietnam War and the American withdrawal from South Vietnam in 1975.

 

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OpIndia Staffhttps://www.opindia.com
Staff reporter at OpIndia

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