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Why US withdrawal from Afghanistan is drawing parallels to the Fall of Saigon

4 min read

Afghanistan: President Biden says there are no parallels with Vietnam

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The former Trump administration struck a deal with the Taliban which would end US military presence in the region after 20 years. The deal was honoured by the current President Joe Biden this year, who announced in April that all US troops would be out of Afghanistan by September. But over the last few months the Taliban has gained rapid momentum, claiming several territories including the Afghan capital of Kabul on Sunday.

Now Afghanistan is effectively under Taliban control, the US is scrambling to evacuate the last of its staff and troops in the country.

The world was shocked to see images of Kabul’s international airport on Monday, as desperate Afghans attempted to flee the country via departing US jets.

Mr Biden is facing criticism for the speed of the US departure from Afghanistan.

Some have referred to this as the president’s ‘Saigon moment’, a reference to the US’s failure in the Vietnam War.

What happened in Saigon in 1975?

The Fall of Saigon refers to a defining moment marking the end of the Vietnam War.

South Vietnam had been supported by the US, Australia and other anti-communist allies during the conflict.

But the People’s Army of Vietnam captured Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, on April 30, 1975.

After years of conflict, the US was forced to make a hasty exit from the region.

Operation Frequent Wind saw the largest helicopter evacuation in history.

Pictures of the fall of Saigon showed hundreds clamouring on to US military planes and helicopters.

Back in July, Mr Biden said the famous scenes in Saigon more than 40 years ago would not be repeated in Afghanistan.

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He said: “There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy of the United States in Afghanistan.”

But many have drawn parallels between pictures of Kabul airport and the exit of US personnel from Vietnam in 1975.

The US had estimated it would be a long time before the Taliban breached Kabul and took over control in the country.

These estimates were proved wrong with the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul on Sunday, after the group had already swept through the majority of Afghan territories.

Why are the US and UK facing criticism for withdrawing from Afghanistan?

While some have supported the decision to withdraw troops after 20 years of presence in the region, others have said the US and UK are turning their back on the Afghan people in their time of need.

Mr Biden said he stood “squarely behind” his decision in a statement on Monday, but acknowledged events “did unfold more quickly” than originally thought.

The President said: “The truth is: this did unfold more quickly than we anticipated.

“So what’s happened? Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country.

“The Afghan military gave up, sometimes without trying to fight.”

The UK’s decision to withdraw troops in line with the US’s decision has also been met with significant criticism within Westminster.

Former defence minister Tobias Ellwood, the Tory MP for Bournemouth East, described chaotic scenes at Kabul airport as “Saigon 2.0”.

He tweeted: “Is this how we thought we’d depart Afghanistan? I repeat my call for a UK inquiry.”

However, Downing Street defended the Government’s position on Afghanistan.

The PM’s spokesman said: “I think it was clear that military intervention alone was not going to be sufficient.

“We have seen the Taliban move quickly across Afghanistan, that is true, but we have been monitoring the situation, and are continuing to do everything possible to secure UK and Afghan nationals.”

He said: “Clearly, once the US decision was made (to withdraw troops), our view was that it would not be right to act unilaterally in this as an occupying force.

“We did speak to other international partners on this, but it was clear that that wasn’t going to be feasible.

“So we have focused on doing everything possible to enable… to work with the previous Afghan government and to now facilitate the exit of UK nationals and Afghan nationals.”

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