Comparisons have been made between the U.S.' war in Vietnam and its ongoing military actions in Afghanistan. The Afghan operations have gone on for a decade now, and there is no end in sight. Every time NATO believed it had crippled the head of insurgency, the Taliban has been able to bounce back.
In the deadliest blow to the U.S. military in Afghanistan on a single day, 31 U.S. troops, including 22 from the elite Navy SEAL Team 6, were killed on Saturday as the Taliban launched a daring attack on a Chinook helicopter.
It's quite difficult to deal with insurgency of this kind, which indeed has legs. The adversaries lie low for months or years, and then launch crippling strikes at U.S. and NATO forces. It's impossible, nor is it the strategy, to kill everyone or suspect everyone of Taliban allegiance. Guerilla forces have the ability to recoup manpower losses by recruiting larger numbers of zealots, and ramp up operations with the help of a sympathetic general public.
Many believe the Afghan military operations have reached an unwinnable terrain and that the U.S. should have got out earlier. Also questions are raised about spending billions of dollars towards "nation building" in Afghanistan.
According to icasuality.org data, in 2011, 379 soldiers have lost their lives in Operation Enduring Freedom. Out of 379, the U.S. lost 282 soldiers this year. Since the start of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001, the U.S. has lost 1,728 soldiers. Operation Enduring Freedom has claimed the lives of 2,660 foreign soldiers so far.
However, the other argument is that there is a big difference between the Vietnam scenario and the mess in Afghanistan. The U.S. launched the Afghan military operations in the aftermath of the 9/11 al-Qaeda attacks, and the mission was to destroy terror cells that could pose a long-term threat to the security and prosperity of the country.
In a late-2009 report, Military.com put the number of active Taliban insurgents fighting the NATO forces at 25,000. It cited a U.S. Intelligence report that said the Taliban was able to increase the number of its active cadres by at least, 5,000 or 25 percent, over one year.
These numbers don't tell the whole story. There are thousands of part-time fighters who come handy in planting bombs or launch attacks in return for money.
One of the main reasons behind the growth in Taliban's force was the sense among ordinary Afghans that the insurgency was slowly getting the better of the U.S. onslaught on insurgents.
"The rise can be attributed to, among other things, a sense that the central government in Kabul isn't delivering (on services), increased local support for insurgent groups, and the perception that the Taliban and others are gaining a firmer foothold and expanding their capabilities," the report quoted a U.S. military official as saying.
A daring Taliban attack on a landmark hotel in capital Kabul in June displayed the audacity and power of the insurgents despite an increase in the number of NATO forces fighting them.
A 38-page semi-annual report presented to the U.S. Congress in April this year had warned that Taliban forces are gaining in strength, especially in areas closer to the Pakistan border.
Last year, a Pentagon report had said the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan was gaining momentum and that the insurgents were able to expand their operations gain more sophistication.
"The insurgent tactic of re-infiltrating the cleared areas to perform executions has played a role in dissuading locals from siding with the Afghan government, which has complicated efforts to introduce local governance."
"A ready supply of recruits is drawn from the frustrated population, where insurgents exploit poverty, tribal friction, and lack of governance to grow their ranks," the report added.
In October last year, the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office (ANSO) warned that the insurgency was getting stronger the Taliban was able to hire new recruits even in regions where it was not prominent.
The report said counterinsurgency "failed to degrade [insurgents'] ability to fight, reduce the number of civilian combat fatalities or deliver boxed government."
The report specifically said Taliban insurgency was becoming stronger in the eastern and northern provinces of the country. The Chinook helicopter was gunned down by the Taliban in the eastern part of the country.
Can the U.S. Win the War?
The Huffington Post quoted a military expert as saying this January that the western strategy to weaken the rebels and force them to negotiate with the government was unlikely to succeed in time.
"The West certainly doesn't have the staying power to defeat the Taliban and reshape the country by 2014, he said.
"The Taliban can fall back and basically wait out the NATO forces," said Nate Hughes, director of military analysis at Stratfor.
President Obama has doubled the U.S. troop numbers in Afghanistan ever since taking office in the hope that a military surge will deal a death blow to the insurgents. But year after year, the Taliban is able to jolt the U.S. military firepower through their wily guerilla operations.
In a 2010 poll conducted among likely U.S. voters, only 41 percent believed the country will win the war in Afghanistan, Reuters had reported. Just six months before that, the percentage of optimists was 51.
Arguing that unnecessary sacrifices are being made in Afghanistan, Jim Lacey wrote in the National Review: "The military has done everything that has been asked of it in Afghanistan. It has, in fact, performed magnificently under the most trying of conditions. Our armed forces have fought and died in a hundred places we have never heard of. But it is now time to honor their service and start bringing them home. What becomes of Afghanistan now is up to the Afghanis. The world is becoming a much more dangerous place.
We must begin conserving our blood and treasure for possible use in places much more vital to our national interest and safety (as Afghanistan was in 2001) — places where we can make a real difference."
A former Navy SEAL has disclosed that the dead elite forces were highly experienced specialist fighters, with over 10 years of experience.
"The guys that were in this unit are senior guys with at least 10 years of experience," a retired Navy Seal told Kare 11. "You're talking about losing 200-250 years of experience. That's major loss."