#AceNewsReport – Aug.23: One widely shared image showed hundreds of Afghans seated in the cargo hold of a US Air Force military aircraft. The evacuation flight — headed for Qatar — had reportedly not planned to carry so many passengers, but pilots had decided to take off even after it was overrun with evacuees…
The Afghanistan evacuation is being compared to the end of the Vietnam War as the world stared in horror this week as images from Kabul airport showed thousands of people streaming onto the tarmac as evacuation flights attempted to take off in the chaos with many so desperate to escape the newly-established Taliban rule that they ran alongside a moving military plane. Others hung on to the outside of the aircraft as it took off, their deaths captured on video and circulated on social media.
Another striking photo captured a helicopter hovering above the American embassy in Kabul, ready to evacuate diplomatic staff from the city. It’s this image, more than any other, that has inspired comparisons between events in Afghanistan and the fall of Saigon in 1975.
And it’s easy to see why. The image is eerily similar to photographs showing the evacuation of American diplomats after the Vietnam War.
So many people have raised the connection that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was this week forced to declare that the current situation was “manifestly not Saigon”.
A month earlier, US President Joe Biden was also asked whether there were any parallels between the two military withdrawals. “None whatsoever, zero,” he said, before declaring:
“There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy of the United States from Afghanistan.”
Here’s what we know about the two watershed events.
What happened in Saigon?
The fall of Saigon refers to the capture of the South Vietnamese capital by the People’s Army of Vietnam — also called the Viet Cong — on April 30, 1975.
It was the culmination of a 20-year conflict between the communist government of the North and South Vietnam and its western allies, which included the United States and Australia.
The capture of Saigon — later renamed Ho Chi Minh City — came two years after US troops withdrew from the country and forced the surrender of South Vietnam. In the aftermath, thousands of Americans, Australians and South Vietnamese people were evacuated.
So there are clear similarities between what happened in 1975 and the rescue mission currently happening in Kabul, but comparisons between Afghanistan and the Vietnam War have been made for years.
John Blaxland, a professor of international security and intelligence studies at the Australian National University, said this is due to a number of factors:
“For the better part of two decades now, people have been talking about the parallels in terms of counterinsurgency, in terms of the, dare I say, imperial overreach, in terms of trying to establish the groundings for stability, security, and prosperity when you’ve got a central government that’s corrupt.”
What happened next?
Following the surrender in Vietnam, hundreds of thousands of military officers, government workers, and allies of the former South Vietnamese government who could not escape were imprisoned in “re-education camps”. Many were also tortured and abused.
For the most part, however, Blaxland said the purpose of the camps was to reintegrate South Vietnamese prisoners back into society. “So, the question is,” he said, “what is the Taliban likely to do?”
At a minimum, the Taliban is expected to impose harsh restrictions on the public. When last in power 20 years ago, women and girls were not allowed to leave home without a male chaperone, have a job, or pursue education.
Non-Islamic music and television were also banned, while corporal punishments — including public floggings and stonings — were common.
The Taliban has claimed it will not reinstate its oppressive rule of the 1990s — stating it are “committed to the rights of women under the laws of sharia” — but there are already reports of women being removed from their jobs and education.
“We have to look at the balance sheet of the Taliban and it’s not pretty,” Blaxland said.
“It’s misogynist, it’s brutal, it’s repressive and it’s quite cavalier with life.”
Blaxland believes the Taliban’s recent comparatively tame rhetoric has been calculated to undermine the resolve of any remaining Afghan National Security Force members who may have resisted capture.
“So where does that leave us? It leaves it with a Taliban that is saying the right things, right now; talking about having to wear a hijab, but not a burqa, and allowing women to go to school,” he said. “They want to firm up their grip on power before they reveal the more brutal side of their character.”
Who can get on the planes?
It’s this cloud of uncertainty — coupled with memories of the Taliban’s history — that led hundreds of Afghans to flood the airport on Monday and throughout the week.
The Taliban and the US have reached an agreement to allow evacuation operations from the city, but details of the agreement have not been released and it is unclear how long it will be until access to the land-locked country is cut off.
In the wake of Saigon’s capture, the US airlifted about 100,000 South Vietnamese who had assisted their war efforts out of the country in an ambitious rescue mission. “My sense is that it’s going to be hard to get that number out of Afghanistan,” Blaxland said.
But as long as the window of opportunity remains open, thousands of people will be evacuated. This includes those who assisted America and its allies, their families and others fleeing because they are likely targets of the Taliban.
So far, Canada has promised to resettle 20,000 vulnerable Afghans — including women leaders, human rights advocates, journalists, members of the LGBTIQ+ community and religious minorities — while Britain has also announced a further 20,000 new refugee visas for people fleeing Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Biden has pledged to get tens of thousands of at-risk Afghans who worked with the US government out of the country, using “devastating force if necessary”.
Only when the mission is complete will the US “conclude our military withdrawal”, he said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Tuesday reaffirmed plans to evacuate about 250 Australian citizens and an undisclosed number of Afghan nationals who have worked alongside the ADF, describing the situation in Kabul as “heartbreaking”.
More than 430 Afghan nationals and their families who worked with Australia have already arrived in the country since April, he said, before he warned that not all people who assisted Australian forces would be rescued.
“I want you to know that we will continue to do everything we can for those who have stood with us,” he said. “[But] despite our best efforts, I know that support won’t reach all that it should … we wish it was different”.
On Wednesday it was revealed the first Australian evacuation flight had successfully rescued 26 Australian and Afghan nationals from Kabul.
Morrison stressed it was the “first of many flights” which would continue to operate as long as it is safe and possible to do so. By Friday, more than 160 people had been evacuated on Australian flights and the first 90 had entered hotel quarantine in Perth.
So far, the rescue mission sits in contrast to Australia’s actions in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Saigon — a “shameful period” Blaxland said the current government would be eager not to repeat.
Following the fall of Saigon to communist forces, then prime minister Gough Whitlam refused to accept South Vietnamese refugees into Australia, while 130 local workers at the Australian Embassy were left behind by evacuation missions.
“It was a shameful moment for Australia,” Blaxland said.
“And I think it’s one that this government, even though it’s acted a little bit belatedly, has on its mind. It doesn’t want the stain of that reputation on its record.”
It wasn’t until years later that the new Malcolm Fraser government welcomed an estimated 56,000 Vietnamese asylum seekers into Australia, under the country’s first comprehensive refugee policy.
Former prime minister Tony Abbott’s 2015 decision to permanently resettle 12,000 Syrian refugees impacted by conflict would also be fresh in the government’s mind.
Asked whether he would adopt a similar approach for Afghan refugees, Morrison said he was considering “all of the issues”.
So far, Australia will offer 3,000 places in its humanitarian visa program for those now fleeing Afghanistan. These are not additional places, but instead will come out of the 13,750 humanitarian visas already offered each year.
The “clear message”, according to Morrison, was that any resettlement would only take place through official humanitarian channels. He also dismissed any plans to follow in the footsteps of Canada and the United Kingdom, despite calls from refugee advocates to do so.
“My sense is that there is an expectation that we will be generous spirited in our approach to people who clearly are likely to be in harm’s way if we don’t help them to get out,” Blaxland said.
“The people who want to leave Afghanistan are exactly the people we want to have.”
#AceNewsDesk report ……..Published: Aug.23: 2021:
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