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Ex-Vietnamese fighters doubt US will win Afghan conflict
By Philippe Perdriau
HANOI, Oct 24 - Former Vietnamese fighters, who 26 years ago inflicted on US forces their first and worst military defeat, doubt that Washington has the capability or stamina to achieve its goal in Afghanistan.
"This conflict will be extremely difficult and will be totally different from that in Vietnam when the US was fighting alongside the South Vietnamese forces who had a million men," said veteran Lieutenant-Colonel Pham The Hao, now aged 72.
"Even if the American soldiers are better equipped now than they were during the Vietnam War, they are not used to fighting on the ground in mountainous terrain and with difficult weather conditions," the former fighter said.
"This war could last longer than anticipated and the American troops could get bogged down," he predicted.
The US-led coalition launched air strikes on the Taliban Islamic militia in Afghanistan on October 7 to punish them for sheltering wanted Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden. And on Friday after days of relentless air and missile strikes, US ground forces were deployed for the first time.
Bin Laden has been named as the mastermind of the twin attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington on September 11 in which more than 5,500 people were killed.
Pham pointed out that the Americans were defeated after 15 years of war despite relentless US bombardments of Communist North Vietnam positions and the use of the defoliant Agent Orange to flush them out of their jungle hideouts.
"The American warplanes failed to dislodge our guerrillas and our militias hidden deep in the tunnels dug into the jungle," he said.
US military advisors working with the South Vietnamese regime in Saigon and US elite special forces "couldn't stop North Vietnamese military operations along the Ho Chi Minh trial either," he added.
The US-led strikes in Afghanistan are now in their third week, with Washington increasingly switching its focus to a ground campaign and with British troops waiting in the wings to join them.
But Colonel Vu Le Thi, 74, asked reflectively: "Have the United States really learnt any lessons from their defeat in Vietnam which cost the lives of 58,000 American soldiers?"
"To ensure a victory in Afghanistan and not get bogged down as in Vietnam, the Americans will have to change their strategy and tactics," he added.
American forces "are without doubt better trained in modern warfare, but they rely too much on their weapons," added Lieutenant-Colonel Hoang Phan Dung, head of the defence ministry's department for developing Vietnam's forces.
"I fought the American soldiers in southern Vietnam and it was not very difficult to repel them outside of the areas where the American bombardments had little effect," he said.
General Van Tien Dung, 84, the main architect of Hanoi's victory over Saigon and the United States, also doubted that Washington and its coalition allies could wipe out bin Laden and the Taliban.
"I am certain they will fail," the former defence minister recently told the press. He handed victory to the Communist forces with the fall of Saigon in 1975, marking the end of the war.
"War cannot stamp out hate, instead it is like pouring petrol on a fire and it will provoke greater hatred and a bitter desire for revenge, especially among those prepared to die for their religion," said Dung.
"How will the US end this war and how will they withdraw?" he asked. "The American soldiers will have to confront the geographical extremes of a country where even the Soviet troops met their match."
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