The US’s Involvement in Vietnam and Afghanistan: A Comparison

1. Introduction

The United States has been involved in two major wars in the last fifty years – Vietnam and Afghanistan. While both were fought against communist forces, there is a difference in the approach taken in both wars. In this essay, I will compare and contrast the US’s involvement in both wars, highlighting the similarities and differences between them.

2. Brief Overview of the US’s Involvement in Vietnam

The US’s involvement in Vietnam began in 1955, when President Eisenhower approved military aid to the French who were fighting a war against communist forces in Vietnam. This aid continued under President Kennedy, who also sent military advisers to help the South Vietnamese government. The number of advisers increased during President Johnson’s administration, and in 1965, he approved the use of combat troops in Vietnam.

The US’s involvement in the war was justified by the fear of the spread of communism. The US saw South Vietnam as a bulwark against communism in Southeast Asia, and they were determined to stop the spread of communism at any cost. This desire to stop communism led to a massive escalation of the war, with over 500,000 troops being deployed by 1968.

The war was immensely unpopular at home, and anti-war protests erupted across the country. The public became increasingly skeptical of the government’s justification for the war, and support for the war dwindled. In 1973, Congress passed legislation that limited the president’s ability to wage war, and this led to a gradual withdrawal of troops from Vietnam. The last troops were withdrawn in 1975, and soon after, communist forces took control of South Vietnam.

The US’s involvement in Vietnam was widely seen as a failure, and it had a profound impact on American politics and society. The war led to a decrease in trust in government, and it also damaged America’s image around the world. The experiences of Vietnam also led to changes in the way that subsequent wars were fought, with an emphasis on avoiding prolonged ground conflicts.

3. The US’s Current Mission in Afghanistan

The US’s current mission in Afghanistan can be traced back to 9/11, when al-Qaeda attacked New York and Washington DC. In response to this attack, President Bush launched a “war on terror” that included invasion of Afghanistan with the goal of overthrowing the Taliban government that had harbored al-Qaeda.

The Taliban government was quickly toppled, but al-Qaeda remained active in Afghanistan. In response, President Bush approved a “surge” of troops into Afghanistan in 2009. This surge was intended to help Afghan security forces take control of areas controlled by insurgents and deny safe havens to al-Qaeda.

President Obama continued these policies when he took office in 2009, but he also began withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in 2011. These withdrawals continued until 2014, when all combat troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan. There are currently around 8400 troops stationed in Afghanistan, mostly involved in training Afghan forces and conducting counterterrorism operations.

4. Comparison of the Two Wars

There are several similarities between the US’s involvement in Vietnam and its current mission in Afghanistan. Both wars were fought against communist forces, and both were justified by the need to contain communism/prevent terrorist attacks on American soil. In both wars, the US gradually escalated its involvement before eventually withdrawing its troops (although this withdrawal was much faster in Afghanistan).

There are also several significant differences between the two wars. Perhaps the most important difference is the role of the government in the Vietnam War. In Vietnam, the US was fighting to prop up a South Vietnamese government that was widely seen as illegitimate and corrupt. In Afghanistan, the US is working with a democratically-elected Afghan government that is supported by the Afghan people.

Another key difference is the nature of the enemy. In Vietnam, the US was fighting against a conventional military force, while in Afghanistan they are fighting against an insurgency. This difference has led to different strategies being used in both wars. In Vietnam, the US focused on large-scale military operations, while in Afghanistan they have focused on counterterrorism operations and nation-building.

Finally, there is a difference in public opinion towards both wars. The Vietnam War was highly unpopular at home, while support for the war in Afghanistan has been much higher. This difference is likely due to the fact that the 9/11 attacks were a direct attack on American soil, whereas the communist threat in Vietnam was seen as more abstract.

5. Conclusion

The US’s involvement in Vietnam and Afghanistan represents two different approaches to containing communism/preventing terrorist attacks on American soil. The experiences of Vietnam led to changes in subsequent wars, with an emphasis on avoiding prolonged ground conflicts. The war in Afghanistan is still ongoing, but it is likely that it will eventually be seen as a success or a failure similar to Vietnam.


The main similarities between the US's current mission in Afghanistan and its involvement in Vietnam are that both conflicts are protracted wars with no clear end in sight, and that both involve a significant commitment of American resources with little to show for it in terms of progress. The main difference is that the US is now fighting alongside a coalition of other nations in Afghanistan, whereas it was essentially alone in Vietnam.

The US's approach to these two conflicts has changed over time due to lessons learned from Vietnam. In particular, the US has been much more cautious about committing ground troops to these kinds of conflicts, opting instead for air strikes and other forms of support. The thinking behind this is that it is easier to withdraw from a conflict when there are fewer American boots on the ground, as was the case in Vietnam.

One lesson that can be learned from comparing these two episodes in American history is the importance of having a clear exit strategy before becoming involved in a conflict. Another lesson is that air power alone is not enough to win a war; at some point, ground troops will likely be needed.