When the American forces landed in South Vietnam in March 1965, they had come with the belief that they would soon crush the ‘racially inferior gooks’ and return home for Christmas. They had gravely miscalculated. The Viet Cong guerillas not only stood up to America’s military might, they also turned the American servicemen into psychopaths. Defeated, traumatized and disgraced, ten Christmases later they pulled out of South Vietnam helter-skelter.
The American soldiers found it difficult to adapt to the clandestine nature of guerilla warfare and this generated uncertainty, hence fear of the unknown in the minds of the soldiers. As a consequence, they broke down and became victims of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). And as the war dragged on, the number of soldiers who succumbed to PTSD grew exponentially. One manifestation of PTSD is suicide, and another, fragging, which means killing own officers. More than1500 cases of fragging were reported between 1969-1972.
The price thus paid by America for its ill-advised venture into Vietnam was incredibly high - 58,000 servicemen killed, 153,303 wounded, over 100,000 military suicides, mostly after returning home, 2,257 aircraft and 5,086 helicopters destroyed – and overall cost of war $ 925 billion.
These statistics and quotes that follow have been taken from multiple sources –Edward Tick in Utna magazine Jan-Feb issue – icasualties.org –Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association (VHPA) – Canada’s Military History Magazine Legion – Wikipedia – Suzanne Goldenberg ‘The Guardian UK’.
The war in Vietnam has perhaps gone down in the annals of American military history as the worst ever defeat. The Loser generals who presided over this war in different capacities were Generals Maxwell Taylor, Harry Kinnaird, Bruce Palmer Jr., Robert Cushman, Rathvon Tompkins, Paul Harkins, William DePuy, William Westmoreland and Creighton Abrams.
On the other side was General Vo Nguyen Giap. He had fought against the Japanese Army which surrendered in 1945. In 1954 he inflicted a crushing defeat on the French Army at Dien Bien Phu. Following arrival of American forces in South Vietnam in 1965, he directed his country’s strategy in the war against them, culminating in total victory in 1975. “General Giap made the huge professionally trained and over-equipped American army look utterly ridiculous, and their leaders helplessly irate, puncturing, in the process, the myth of American supremacy” – Norman Dixon in his book ‘On the Psychology of Military Incompetence’.
In February 2003, the then Secretary of State Colin Powell delivered that infamous speech at the United Nations in which he accused Iraq of developing biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. He backed up his claim by what subsequently turned out to be fabricated intelligence which cleared the way for the invasion of Iraq in 2003. A few years later when it was established that Iraq did not have those weapons, the Bush Administration was left with eggs all over their faces. Yet, the Trump Administration has the temerity to accuse Pakistan of deceit and lies. As for Colin Powell, a loyal and obedient soldier, who was well and truly used by the Bush Administration, he recanted the statements he had made at the United Nations.
The war in Iraq turned out badly for the Americans. As in Vietnam, so in Iraq, having to fight an invisible enemy who was here, there, everywhere, yet nowhere, created an atmosphere of constant danger which made the soldiers easy victims of PTSD.
In a Pentagon survey, 52% of US troops reported low or very low morale, and 72% said their units suffered from low morale because the soldiers had little faith in their commanding officers, while75% said that their battalion-level leadership was poor. With the break-down of discipline the soldiers were unable to withstand stress, therefore, it is hardly surprising that thousands of them took their own lives, while some others resorted to fragging.
The war in Iraq cost the Americans 4,530 military fatalities, 32,222 wounded, over a hundred helicopters destroyed, a whopping sum of $1.1 trillion, and like in Vietnam, a military professionally debased. The Loser generals responsible for overseeing the war were Generals Tommy Franks, Ricardo Sanchez, William Mattis, John Abizaid, Raymond Odierno, George Casey, James Dubin and David Petraeus.
In October 2001, after the rout of the Afghan Taliban by the American air-bombing campaign, America went into a state of euphoria. But this was short-lived as a few months later the inevitable Afghan resistance began. For thirteen years after that the American forces employed everything in their arsenal except WMDs, yet, failed to overwhelm the Taliban guerillas who continued to subject them to punishing surprise attacks. When the invaders could take it no more they withdrew the bulk of their forces, leaving behind a token force of 8,000 to bear the brunt of Taliban fury.
The Americans had come to Afghanistan in 2001 with a mission. Sixteen years later that mission is in tatters. Instead of carrying out a dispassionate analysis of the causes of their failure and taking remedial measures, their high command chose to protect their positions and reputations by blaming Pakistan for their inept conduct of war. Thus the ‘do more’ refrain and a tirade of abuse, accusations and threats, all aimed at forcing Pakistan to fight their war against the Taliban and the Haqqani Network, whom, they allege, have sanctuaries in Pakistan. But the Taliban and the Haqqanis are wiser. They would never put all their eggs in one basket; operating out of Pakistan territory would entail just that as their back and forth movement across the Durand Line would make them highly vulnerable to interception.
But if the American forces still believe that the insurgents operate out of Pakistan, why have they not blocked the routes of infiltration into Afghanistan and exfiltration into Pakistan? Doing so would have isolated the Taliban and the Haqqanis from the battlefield in Afghanistan. The battles would then have been fought along the Durand Line on the Afghan side. They had thirteen years and a force of 450,000 (including 300,000 strong Afghan army) to achieve operational supremacy over the Taliban and the Haqqanis.
Why was this not done?
Simple. There are no sanctuaries in Pakistan.
The military code expects leaders to assume full responsibility for their acts and decisions.
Since the geography of Afghanistan favours the insurgents, the Taliban and the Haqqanis have their sanctuaries in the Hindu Kush mountains, which the Americans seem to consider as hallowed ground into which they rarely ventured after the ambush that killed 22 US special forces soldiers. Domination of the passes in the Hindu Kush Range by the American forces would have created enormous operational difficulties for the insurgents. But this was not to be. Their ineptitude has now got them into a no-win situation, notwithstanding the induction of a few thousand more troops. History propounds that earlier Afghan wars had established Afghanistan’s reputation as graveyard for invaders. America’s war in Afghanistan is destined to reinforce it. ‘Those forces which ignored the lessons of history and geography have paid dearly with their lives, for according to some, history is geography in motion’.
The war in Afghanistan has, so far, cost the Americans 2,500 military fatalities, thousands of soldiers afflicted with PTSD, several thousand military suicides, thousands wounded, 120 helicopters destroyed, $1.7 trillion, and like Vietnam and Iraq, a stigmatized military. The Loser generals whose inept conduct of war cost their country dearly were Generals Tommy Franks, Paul Mikolashek, Dan McNeill, John Vines, David Barno, Karl Eikenberry, David McKiernan, Stanley McChrystal, David Petraeus, John Allen and John Nicholson (still there and wants to do with a few thousand more soldiers what 150,000 US and NATO soldiers couldn’t do - win the war)!
Sadly for the American people the loser generals of the wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan were the very incarnation of utter mediocrity. That is why they were outwitted by General Giap, Mullah Omar and Sirajuddin Haqqani, all masters of their craft. “And what is it about military organization that they should promote and tolerate those whose performance at the highest levels brings opprobrium upon the organization they represent” – Norman Dixon.
The writer is a former armour and SSG officer.