Friday, April 30, 2010
By Col. Oliver North
Washington, D.C. Just before first light on April 30, 35 years ago
this week, a U.S. Marine CH-46 helicopter from HMM-165 call-sign
"Lady Ace Zero Nine" landed on the roof of the American embassy in
Saigon to pick up Ambassador Graham Martin. Moments later, a message
classified "secret" by the National Security Agency was flashed
to the Oval Office informing the president: "Lady Ace 09 has the
ambassador and his immediate staff on board."
Over the next several hours, dozens more messages were transmitted to
the commander-in-chief, detailing in near-real-time, Herculean
efforts to evacuate the remaining Americans from the city as North
Vietnamese Army (NVA) regulars closed in on our last diplomatic,
military and intelligence missions in the Republic of Vietnam (RVN).
The now-declassified Operation Frequent Wind intercepts in the Gerald
R. Ford Presidential Library read like a novel.
Nineteen minutes after the first transmission: "Lady Ace 09 reports
feet wet. Lady Ace 13 reports outbound with 16 USA... Lady Ace 10
going in for landing..." Two of the cables describe CS tear gas that
nearly blinded the pilots. A half hour into the evacuation: "Lady Ace
14 is on the roof. He reports small arms fire on the north east
corner of the building in a small clump of trees at ground level.
Lady Ace is loading at this time."
Then, three minutes later: "Spectre reports numerous fire fights all
around the building. Swift 33 inbound feet dry. Lady Ace 14 reports
off with 21 pax." The abbreviation "pax" is military-speak for passengers.
At 07:53, the final helo off the embassy roof, a Marine CH-46 from
HMM-164, call-sign "Swift Two Two," brought out Major James Kean, the
Marine Security Guard commander and the last 10 of his Marines. Less
than four hours later, NVA armor and infantry captured the
presidential palace in Saigon.
This week, Lady Ace 09, freshly painted in Vietnam-era markings, was
commemorated at the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum at Marine
Corps Air Station Miramar, California. Among the pilots and
air-crewmen who gathered for the celebration was retired Col. Gerald
Berry, who saved the U.S. ambassador and helped rescue more than
7,100 Americans and our allies during the frantic hours of Operation
Frequent Wind. There were even more attendees who are veterans of the
current war in both Iraq and Afghanistan. But no matter where or when
they fought, nearly all had a common refrain: "This war shouldn't end
like Vietnam." It doesn't have to.
Despite pundits in the so-called mainstream media waxing eloquent
about parallels between Vietnam and Afghanistan, those making the
comparisons ignore some very inconvenient facts. Most importantly,
the adversaries confronted in both wars are radically dissimilar.
In Vietnam, U.S. troops and our allies faced nearly a quarter million
conscripted but well-trained, disciplined and equipped NVA regulars
and upwards of 100,000 highly organized Viet Cong (V.C.) insurgents
from 1966 onward. Each year of the war, the NVA launched multiple
major campaigns against U.S. and RVN forces in accord with orders
issued by authorities in Hanoi. When the V.C. collapsed in the
aftermath of the 1968 Tet Offensive, the NVA, supported by the Soviet
Union, communist China and the Warsaw Pact, simply increased their numbers.
The Republic of Vietnam didn't succumb to an insurgency 35 years ago
this week. It was invaded by the army of a hostile neighbor. None of
that is happening in the shadows of the Hindu Kush yet.
The 10,000 to 25,000 Taliban currently operating in Afghanistan have
cross-border safe havens in Pakistan and receive some military
training, equipment and logistics support from Pakistan and Iran.
Taliban leaders once counted on financing from radical Wahabbi
Islamists and received support and direction from elements of the
Pakistani intelligence service. Today, the Taliban is a
narco-insurgency, funded almost exclusively by opium. Their
"warriors" and zealous "martyrs" claim Muslim purity but their
"military campaigns" are limited to planting improvised explosive
devices, suicide bombings and murders. They aren't about to overwhelm
Kabul or even a provincial capital.
That of course doesn't mean this war can't be lost for there is one
very important similarity between Vietnam and Afghanistan: a parallel
promise of withdrawing American troops and assistance. In 1973,
President Richard Nixon withdrew all American troops except for a
handful of advisers from the Republic of Vietnam. The following
December, Congress cut off all military aid to Vietnam. Four months
later, U.S. Marines were making desperate sorties to the roof of our
embassy in Saigon.
On this 35th anniversary of that event, President Obama and his
advisers would be wise to remember where the Vietnam War was really
lost. It wasn't the rice paddies and triple canopied mountains of
Southeast Asia. Vietnam was lost in the corridors of power in our own
nation's capital. That should never happen again.