Insurgencies since World War II have worn down their enemies and then prevailed — with one major exception: Malaya (communist insurgency 1948-1960) before it became Malaysia.
Iraq, where the final results will not be known until after U.S. troops leave everything to Iraqi security forces, may become the second.
In 1946, the French in Indochina were up against a communist insurgency in decolonization disguise, and after eight years of guerrilla warfare were defeated at Dienbienphu in 1954, which clinched victory for North Vietnam's Marxist republic. Six months after Dienbienphu the French army faced a nationalist insurgency in Algeria, which was then an integral part of metropolitan France — and after eight years of fighting conceded defeat and agreed to the forced exile of 1 million French citizens and the exit of a French army of 500,000.
The United States fought a 10-year guerrilla war in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos and lost to the same Ho Chi Minh-inspired, communist-led insurgency that defeated the French army.
The Marxist-led FARC in Colombia is still in business after a half-century of guerrilla warfare, bombings, and kidnappings. The Marxist Huks in the Philippines are yet to be defeated after 60 years of battling the central government and before that the Japanese occupation. Hukbalahap, or People's Army Against the Japanese, is still killing an average of one Filipino soldier a day.
In Afghanistan, the Soviet Union fought an insurgency for nine years — and lost. The United States and its allies have been fighting a Taliban insurgency for the past five years and victory now appears to be an ephemeral mirage. For the United States in Vietnam and the French in Algeria, the enemy enjoyed privileged sanctuaries in North Vietnam and in Tunisia. Thus, both insurgencies became unbeatable.
Now the Taliban have the same advantage over U.S. and European forces under NATO command in Afghanistan — safe havens in Pakistan's seven Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the Afghan border.
The local Pashtun population is sympathetic to the Taliban and al-Qaida, while the Pakistani army, about 120,000-strong now in FATA, mostly in static positions along a 1,400-mile Afghan border, loathe an assignment they say smacks of civil war.
Pakistan sans President Pervez Musharraf favors negotiations with their homegrown Taliban extremists, and Pakistani officials, speaking privately, believe the United States also should seek accommodation through talks with "moderate" Taliban elements whose objective would be a coalition government.
They also believe Saudi Arabia, once one of three countries that recognized Taliban rule in Kabul in the late 1990s, could be helpful.
Pakistani to-ing and fro-ing on the Taliban reflects a post-Musharraf democratic coalition government trying to get its act together. This, in turn, is a major handicap for U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan fighting a Taliban insurgency, which originally was inspired by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency to put an end to the civil war in the early 1990s that followed the Soviet Union's concession of defeat.
U.S. and allied vulnerabilities are brought home by the Pentagon estimating that "84 percent of all containerized cargo and about 40 percent of all fuel for U.S. and coalition forces operating out of Afghanistan passes through Pakistan," either through the Khyber Pass to Kabul or through Baluchistan to Kandahar.
The beginning of the end for U.S. forces in Vietnam was the 1968 Tet Offensive, which was erroneously interpreted by U.S. and international media as a huge victory for Hanoi's insurgents.
Walter Cronkite declared the war lost, and President Johnson decided not to run for re-election. The communist Vietcong hit 36 provincial capitals simultaneously, but they were repulsed everywhere with tremendous losses — about 45,000 out of 80,000 guerrillas committed — that forced North Vietnam to dispatch regular army units to replace the Vietcong.
The last U.S. fighting unit left Vietnam in March 1973, and the South Vietnamese army fought on until 1975 when Congress, in a classic case of cutting off its nose to spite its face, decided to cut off all military aid to South Vietnamese and Cambodian allies.
Memoirs by North Vietnam's military commanders said they thought they would have to fight on at least another two years before the grand prize of Saigon would be within their grasp. But the congressional decision led them to improvise a general offensive against a now thoroughly demoralized South Vietnamese.
There are lessons in all these defeats for NATO in Afghanistan.
If NATO doesn't prevail and the Taliban sneak in by agreeing to a junior partnership in a broad-based coalition government, the geopolitical consequences would be incalculable.
Yet the Taliban are now maneuvering for a Vietnam-style Tet Offensive, this time against Kabul.
The United States and NATO are fast approaching decision time to take the war to Taliban's safe bases in FATA, with or without Pakistani consent. A larger aid package than the current $750 million for FATA's 3.5 million people also would have to be voted by the new U.S. Congress.
Taliban guerrillas are edging closer to the capital city from three directions. In a probe of Taliban inroads, French paratroopers set off on a recon to the east of the capital and quickly fell into an ambush that killed 10 French fighters and wounded 21, which raises the question of how the Taliban found out about French plans and knew exactly where to prepare a three-sided ambush as night fell.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy immediately flew to Afghanistan to bolster morale and pledge unswerving French military support against the Taliban.
In Vietnam, many U.S. operations were known in advance to the enemy through local employees who worked on U.S. bases. The latest Afghan fiasco has all the earmarks of an inside intelligence job.
The Taliban's tactical coordination became apparent when 10 suicide bombers mounted a coordinated attack against one of the largest U.S. military bases. Last July nine U.S. soldiers were killed and 15 injured in a surprise attack against a small U.S. base that was abandoned the next day.
To turn Afghanistan into a viable economy beyond the clandestine multibillion-dollar opium poppy-to-heroin traffic requires billions more in aid, which isn't available in the donor-fatigued national parliaments of the coalition.
The outgoing NATO commander said at least 400,000 troops would be required to control Afghanistan — the size of France — with 30 million people. Current deployment: 60,000.
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