The 1968 Tet Offensive in Vietnam spelled the end for Johnson and the US role in that war. Will Obama fail to see a similar Taliban 'psych ops,' aimed at American opinion to hasten the US exit from Afghanistan?
Good war commanders are ready for a foe to use battlefield deception. Great ones watch for an enemy to create the illusion of military success – one that might trick the public to demand a hasty retreat from a war.
That lesson was learned by the United States in Vietnam after Hanoi launched the Tet Offensive in 1968. American TV portrayed the attacks as a US defeat, catching President Johnson off guard. A similar ruse may be happening now in Afghanistan as the Taliban change tactics to conduct bold, highly visible attacks. Will President Obama, as commander in chief, be as unprepared as Johnson?
Since last year, the Taliban have been losing the war on the ground, largely because of Mr. Obama’s surge of troops. Now it is opting for bold “psych ops.” On Tuesday, it launched a made-for-media suicide attack on the prominent Kabul InterContinental Hotel, a favorite place for foreigners.
It took only a few hours for NATO and Afghan forces to retake the city landmark. But that was long enough for Western media to send out images of a stunning loss in the fortified Afghan capital.
After the attack, a Taliban spokesman confirmed the group’s new focus: “The enemy has to be confronted by both physical and psychological war.”
Ever since the Vietnam War, the US military has tried to avoid situations in which an enemy creates a strong visual image of a temporary setback for American forces. That lesson was seared into the Pentagon’s memory after North Vietnam – which knew its fighters were not winning – decided that the best battlefront was US public opinion.