Balandi is America’s My Lai

By Ramzy Baroud

Like Vietnam, Afghanistan is a lost cause, and more troops will do nothing but push the US deeper into the quagmire.

Some of us warned about the Vietnamisation of Afghanistan as early as the first months of the war in 2001. The Afghans are a proud people with a long and formidable history of resistance to foreign occupation. Much of the country remains outside US-Nato control and influence even today. However, with no clear strategic goals for the US and its allies, and dubious ethical standards, Afghanistan has become a killing zone of unforeseen magnitude. The latest atrocious episode against the Afghans took place on March 11 in the village of Balandi, when accused US Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales killed 17 innocent people while they were sleeping.

Balandi is located in the Panjwai District of Kandahar province, which has seen some of the toughest resistance to the US-Nato occupation. In a way, Balandi is a microcosm of Afghanistan, which is a model of Vietnam. The US also pursued a devastatingly unethical and misguided policy in the conflict there. Now, US policymakers and military men are trying to find a dignified exit strategy from Afghanistan.

Throughout this agonising brainstorming process in Washington, Afghans continue to be ruthlessly killed by soldiers. The US is turning its citizens into "pathological killers", according to Richard Falk, a renowned human rights scholar and UN envoy.

"American soldiers urinating on dead Taliban fighters, Quran burning, and countryside patrols whose members were convicted by an American military tribunal of killing Afghan civilians for sport … [whatever the US military commanders in Kabul might] sincerely say in regret and Washington might repeat by way of formal apology has become essentially irrelevant" (Foreign Policy Journal, March 15).

General John Allen, the commander of US and Nato forces, said the US would require "significant combat power" next year in Afghanistan (Reuters, March 22). Instead of questioning how more combat troops can remedy this costly military disaster, Senator John McCain engaged General Allen with a discussion over numbers:

General Allen: "My opinion is that we will need significant combat power in 2013."

Senator McCain: "Like 68,000?"

General Allen: "Sixty-eight thousand is a good going-in number sir, but I owe the president some analysis on that."

McCain, a Vietnam ‘war hero’, should know that feeding a lost war with more troops will do nothing but nourish the US military quagmire. Surges and drops in US troop numbers in Afghanistan didn’t achieve any strategic goal; numerous villages and their inhabitants simply continued to be obliterated.

Lies and Deceit

The Pentagon Papers have shown how the Afghanistan war has also been rife with lies and deceit, and there is an almost routine ‘discovery’ of atrocities which resemble those committed in My Lai. How many My Lais will history books assign to Afghanistan?

Deepak Tripathi, who set up the BBC Bureau in Kabul and was the corporation’s Afghanistan correspondent in the early 1990s, wrote: "The massacre of Kandahar has echoes of My Lai — a village in South Vietnam where American troops massacred unarmed civilians including women, children and old people almost exactly 44 years ago, on March 16, 1968. The full horror of the My Lai massacre took time to surface, for many attempts were made to downplay it. Soldiers who had tried to stop the killings were denounced by US Congressmen and received hate mail and death threats."

At one point the objective in Vietnam was simply to save face and offset the political cost of a doomed war. It was then, in January 1973, that the US signed a ceasefire agreement. President Richard Nixon claimed the agreement would bring "peace with honour in Vietnam and Southeast Asia." But honouring Vietnam was hardly on the US agenda, leaving the Vietnamese with no other option than to escalate their military push against the US. With the awareness of looming defeat, US policymakers issued a policy of ‘Vietnamisation’.

This was aimed at shifting the burden of the war to their besieged allies in the South Vietnamese Army, while maintaining the ability to interfere as they wished in the country. The current US policy in Afghanistan is not much different.

The US is interested in maintaining a military upper hand next year in order to create a favourable environment following its scheduled withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014. By signing the US-Afghan Strategic Partnership Agreement, the US aims to protect its unique future privileges. This too is a lost cause.

Saigon fell on April 30, 1975. US President Gerald Ford had announced earlier that as far as the US was concerned, the Vietnam War was "finished." It finished because 20 years of killings and senseless war — the effects of which are still felt by the Vietnamese today — could not possibly achieve honourable peace. Afghanistan will also soon become a memory, fading for some but remaining in the minds of those who lived through it.

Freedom, for those who are denied it, is an absolute value. Its meaning is not diminished by war or military occupation. The moral clarity of the Afghan struggle for freedom in 2012 remains as strong as it was in 2001. What may prove ominous in future months and years is the fact that even the feeble excuse for war — that it was actually a ‘war on terror’ — is hardly as ubiquitous as it once was. The war now merely exists to assert a degree of American dominance, and to arrange for some beneficial future that might allow the US to reap unclear gains.

"Senseless and morbid wars produce senseless and morbid behaviour," wrote Falk. He is correct. General Allen and Senator McCain need to now realise and accept that they are defeated.

The war on Vietnam has ‘finished’. So has the war in Afghanistan.

– Ramzy Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story. (This article was originally published in Gulf News – – on March 28)

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