Lessons from AfghanistanThe tragic developments in Afghanistan originate with the Afghan government’s unfathomable incompetence, corruption and political division. The pullout of U.S. forces from the war-torn country revealed those stark realities to the world. The unexpected pandemonium at Kabul’s airport was a sad reminder of similar scenes from Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War.
The Taliban regime, which took power in 1996, attracted keen international attention due to its close connection with Al Qaeda, a militant Islamist organization founded by Osama bin Laden in the late 1980s. After America’s Operation Enduring Freedom led to the fall of the Taliban regime in November 2001, South Korea took part in the reconstruction of the war-devastated country. Our troops, including the Dasan unit, helped in the rebuilding of the nation for over a decade. South Korea provided $725 million in aid to help strengthen the Afghan Army and police from 2011 to 2020.
The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan resulted from distrust and disappointment about its government. America has spent more than $2 trillion in Afghanistan since 2001 to help its military defend itself against the Taliban. Since 2014, the United States covered 75 percent of the Afghan government’s annual defense budget of $5 billion to $6 billion to help train the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (Andsf).
Washington thought the Andsf was more powerful than the Taliban forces. That was a serious miscalcuation. Troops of the Afghan Army only existed in numbers. All the U.S. aid went to Afghan’s bureaucrats and top brass. After the U.S. pullout, they had no will to fight the Taliban. They surrendered to the rebel forces without resistance.
America had to withdraw its forces after its belated realization that its enormous aid, financial and military, was useless. That resembles the U.S. pullout from Vietnam in 1974. At that time, South Vietnam was as corrupt and politically divided as Afghanistan.
The situation in Afghanistan shows how important it is to maintain a strong military. And yet the repeatedly down-scaled South Korea-U.S. joint drills and the South Korean military’s lax discipline, as evidenced by continuous sexual harassment cases in the barracks, ring alarms. If the military’s discipline collapses, the military cannot function. Moreover, North Korea continues ratcheting up its nuclear capabilities.
Under such circumstances, the decades-old Korea-U.S. alliance cannot be overemphasized. Kim Yo-jong, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s sister and vice director of the Workers’ Party, has brazenly demanded the withdrawal of U.S. forces from South Korea. The alliance is the pillar of our security. The government and military must learn lessons from both Vietnam and Afghanistan before it’s too late.