History Repeats Itself

This was a real time warp for me: (NY Times via Cato@Liberty)

As President Obama prepares to release a review of American strategy in Afghanistan that will claim progress in the nine-year-old war there, two new classified intelligence reports offer a more negative assessment and say there is a limited chance of success unless Pakistan hunts down insurgents operating from havens on its Afghan border.

The reports, one on Afghanistan and one on Pakistan, say that although there have been gains for the United States and NATO in the war, the unwillingness of Pakistan to shut down militant sanctuaries in its lawless tribal region remains a serious obstacle. American military commanders say insurgents freely cross from Pakistan into Afghanistan to plant bombs and fight American troops and then return to Pakistan for rest and resupply.

The findings in the reports, called National Intelligence Estimates, represent the consensus view of the United States' 16 intelligence agencies, as opposed to the military, and were provided last week to some members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees. The findings were described by a number of American officials who read the reports' executive summaries.

Perhaps someone who knows better can accuse me of making a shallow comparison, but doesn't this sound exactly like the situation that plagued the US Army in Vietnam, where enemy fighters would hide out across the border in Cambodia?  From Wikipedia:

The People's Army of Vietnam had been utilizing large sections of relatively unpopulated eastern Cambodia as sanctuaries into which they could withdraw from the struggle in South Vietnam to rest and reorganize without being attacked. These base areas were also utilized by the communists to store weapons and other material that had been transported on a large scale into the region on the Sihanouk Trail. PAVN forces had begun moving through Cambodian territory as early as 1963


  1. caseyboy:

    Having served during, but not in Vietnam I agree wholeheartedly with your comparison. One might ask when will we stop fighting wars like this one. I would say when will we stop fighting wars this way, half-as... Lets fight the war aggressively, all-in, win it and come home. If we are not willing to do that for domestic political or geopolitical reasons get our men and women out of there now. It should be a crime to use the lives of brave men and women to score political points. Personally I am very angry about this issue.

  2. Heather:

    There seems to be only slow progress in reinforcing the democratic successes in Afghanistan and
    supporting its national reconciliation process. The situation is not stabilized at all and it will take more time than it was thought to describe Afghanistan as a country free from terrorism.

  3. John Moore:

    Standard counter-insurgency tactics worked very well in Vietnam, once they were applied (i.e. post 1968 in the Abrams era). By the time the US forced a surrender of the north by the Christmas bombing campaign, the south was pretty well controlled. The US Ambassador used to drive around the countryside without an escort.

    However, because of the sanctuaries in Laos and Cambodia, as with Afghanistan, the war required continuous fighting to maintain that control. The same will be true with Afghanistan - since there appears to be no equivalent way to stop the infiltration from the tribal regions of Pakistan (and we don't have the political will to punish Iran for its own efforts to kill Americans).

  4. Martel Firing:

    A similar situation of sanctuaries for the enemy applied in the Korean war, where the military,including air forces were restricted to South of the Yalu river. General MacArthur wanted to go after the North Koreans and Chinese Communists in their sanctuaries but was prevented by Pres. Truman from doing so. Success would have resulted in a unified, friendly Korea, and perhaps a more respectful China.

    The concept of limited war dictates that our side should restrain itself to a given territory so as not to annoy the neighbors. It's a self defeating strategy. The U.S. should always use its best and most effective military capabilities, which involve massive force and unfortunate "collateral damages" but it gets the job done - fast and efficiently. Perhaps we'd have more respect among rogues if we were successful in war rather than dainty in our regard for borders that provide sanctuary to our enemies.