So far, US officials have ruled out the possibility of a hurried evacuation of Kabul embassy staff. It will be an organised affair, they have maintained. But the similarities with Saigon are hard to miss.
However as the Taliban close in on Kabul, the US has rushed in troops for evacuation of its diplomatic staff and thousands of civilians, American and non-American. A few thousand American troops have already landed in Kabul.
A total of about 3,000 troops will be involved in the Kabul operation. Another 3,500 to 4,000 troops from a combat brigade will be in Kuwait on standby.
On Saturday, helicopters flitted back and forth between Kabul’s airport and the vast US diplomatic compound in the heavily fortified Green Zone.
They are bringing back memories of Operation Frequent Wind in April, 1975 in Saigon, Vietnam- a frenzied evacuation effort in wake of North Vietnamese Army running over South, in the dying days of the Vietnam war.
In this file photo taken on April 30, 1975 Photo dated 30 April 1975 showing local residents crowding North Vietnamese Army tanks taking position near the presidential palace in Saigon, following a last ditch battle. (AFP)
What happened in Saigon in April, 1975
On the Vietnam war, the Soviets and the Chinese backed the North, while South Vietnam had the US behind it.
In the dying days of the war, by March of 1975, the fall of Saigon in South Vietnam looked imminent in the face of a North Vietnam army charge. The US gradually started evacuating diplomats, their families, relatives, and civilians, including some non-Americans.
But US had clearly miscalculated the rapidity with which the North Vietnamese army could overrun South Vietnam.
When an air base next to the airport came under artillery fire on April 28, the need for an immediate evacuation was felt. Over 7,000 people were evacuated via helicopters over two days, including many directly from the embassy premises.
The helicopters took evacuees to ships stationed at sea. By some reports, the choppers began to clog ship decks and some were pushed overboard to allow others to land. Pilots of other helicopters were told to drop off their passengers and then take off and ditch in the sea, from where they would be rescued.
In this file photo taken on April 30, 1975 perched on a tank, soldier of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) penetrates the South Vietnamese presidential palace compound 30 April 1975 in Saigon, the South Vietnamese government’s last stronghold (AFP)
It’s is not just the frequent helicopter sorties between Kabul airport and the US embassy- there are more similarities with the Saigon operation.
Thousands of Afghans who worked for the US during the last 20 years as interpreters or drivers and their families are seeking to leave as soon as possible, fearing Taliban retribution. Many of them will seek special immigrant visas (SIVs) to remain in the United States.
Like in Saigon, they too could be accommodated.
The Pentagon estimates that it will need to evacuate about 30,000 people before it completes its withdrawal from Afghanistan by August 31, a deadline set by US President Joe Biden. A Pentagon spokesman said that the US would have the capacity to move “thousands per day.”
(With agency inputs)
“평생 사상가. 웹 광신자. 좀비 중독자. 커뮤니케이터. 창조자. 프리랜서 여행 애호가.”