On March 29, 1973, the United States withdrew the last of its combat troops from Vietnam and the last prisoners of war that were held in North Vietnam returned to U.S. soil. While there is debate as to when U.S. military involvement in Vietnam officially ended, this day is regarded as National Vietnam War Veterans Day and in 2017, it is a clear reminder that the United States’ 16-year war in Afghanistan must come to an end.
Before the U.S. funded and aided proxy wars in the Middle East in the name of ending the War on Terror, it did the same in Vietnam and Korea in the name of stopping the spread of Communism. As with the current model, the U.S. spent years indirectly influencing the country’s politics before it directly declared war on North Vietnam on November 1, 1955.
According to estimates, more than 2 million civilians, 1.1 million North Vietnamese and Viet Cong fighters, 250,000 South Vietnamese fighters, and nearly 58,000 U.S. military members were killed in Vietnam during the war.
While many have argued that the Vietnam War was “an attempt by the United States to suppress a heroic Vietnamese national liberation movement that had driven French colonialism out of its country,” or “a tragic mistake brought about by U.S. leaders who exaggerated the influence of communism and underestimated the power of nationalism,” one thing is clear—the U.S. is still using the same tactics and making the same mistakes today.
When the U.S. announced the beginning of the Afghanistan War on October 7, 2001, it did so by telling Americans that the goal was to eradicate Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. At the time, it was less than one month after nearly 3,000 people were killed in an attack that was quickly blamed on Al-Qaeda, on September 11, 2001.
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Americans shifted their focus from stopping the spread of Communism to stopping the spread of terrorism. But in the same way that North Vietnam eventually prevailed and the Vietnam War is now considered a massive failure on the United States’ long list of military interventions, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are flourishing in Afghanistan 16 years after the U.S. pledged to defeat them.
The Afghanistan War has cost more than $1 trillion and more than 31,000 civilian deaths have been documented. It should be noted that over the last few years, civilian deaths have substantially increased—which serves as a reminder that the situation is only getting worse.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan began documenting civilian casualties in 2009. The combined number of civilians who were killed and injured that year was nearly 6,000. The number has steadily increased over the years, and in 2016, it reached a record high with nearly 3,500 killed and nearly 8,000 injured.
The Afghanistan War has been ongoing for so many years that ending it was one of the things President Obama promised during his campaign in the 2008 election. However, while Obama did the opposite of what he said he would do, President Trump has been much more blunt about the fact that the war in Afghanistan is not coming to an end anytime soon, and while the U.S. may have a strategy in mind, it does not appear to include an exit.
In 2018, the U.S. has pledged more than $45 billion to its budget for the Afghanistan War, and as Trump pushes for a parade to show U.S. military members how much Americans appreciate them, National Vietnam War Veterans Day serves as a reminder that the best thing the U.S. can do for the 14,000 troops currently stationed in Afghanistan is to bring them home—and then we can throw a parade to celebrate.
As Sen. Rand Paul said in response to Trump's proposal for a parade, “Though the martial image of high-stepping soldiers is not one I tend to associate with our nation’s Founders’ distrust of a standing Army, I’m not against a victory celebration. So I propose we declare victory in Afghanistan, bring home our 14,000 troops and hold a victory parade.”