Kabul evacuations are 'echoes of Saigon'
The Agenda


The images beamed around the world from Kabul over the last week of helicopters and transport planes laden with people desperate to leave Afghanistan have uncomfortable echoes for many in the U.S. of the embarrassing withdrawal from Saigon in Vietnam and Phnom Penh in Cambodia in the 1970s.

The message coming out of Washington D.C. since the Taliban took Kabul has been "this is not Saigon" but not everyone is so convinced.

Jim Laurie is the only American journalist who remained in Saigon in 1975 after the Americans left, and it became Ho Chi Minh City. He joins Stephen Cole to put the last week in some historical context and to consider exactly where this leaves American foreign policy going forward.


Laurie is an award-winning journalist and author. The only U.S. reporter to remain in Saigon after the U.S. withdrawal, his work there for NBC News won him a Peabody Award. He also spent time in Cambodia as it fell to the Khmer Rouge, as well as in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion. Laurie opened the first U.S. network bureau in China in Beijing in 1981. His memoir "The Last Helicopter: Two lives in Indochina" was published last year.


"The similarities [between Kabul and Saigon] are striking," Laurie says. Though he admits, the differences are also huge, mainly in terms of the likely humanitarian outcome.

"We had a little bit longer. At the very end, the South Vietnamese troops fought. And so that meant we had more time to get people out. And the evacuation of Saigon began roughly one month before the fall," he said.

"The preparation that went into the evacuation of Afghans by the American government this time has been, in my view, appalling."

And – as with Vietnam – the situation in Afghanistan is posing some very awkward questions for the U.S.: "Once again, as it did in 1975, the question of the reliability of America comes up. Are there promises willing to be kept? Will they be kept? Can they be believed?"


As for what the future holds for Afghanistan, there's a key question on Laurie, and indeed the rest of the world's lips: "Is it the old Taliban that is now back in power, or is it Taliban 2.0? I don't think we know that right now. It all depends on whether you believe what they say. And we're going have to wait and see on that."


· General Richard Barrons, former commander of the British Army's Joint Forces Command shares his views on the speed of the Taliban takeover, and what it might mean for future Western military engagements.

· Farzana Elham, Afghan MP and women's rights campaigner talks to Cole from Kabul about her very real concerns about the future for Afghan women.

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