Coming soon: A Taliban Tet offensive

But its historical impact was to mock the triumphalist claims of General William Westmoreland, who had told Americans months earlier that the Vietcong were on the ropes and unable to mount a major offensive, and that the war would soon be over. So, even if they held no ground and lost a number of their own fighters for every American soldier they killed during the offensive, the Vietcong struck a tremendous psychological blow on America’s willingness to continue an expeditionary war in Southeast Asia that Tet had demonstrated could drag on for years. The most high-profile U.S. casualty of the Tet Offensive was President Lyndon B. Johnson, who just weeks later was so badly bloodied in his party’s New Hampshire primary by the antiwar candidate Eugene McCarthy that he withdrew his reelection bid — and immediately began negotiating with the Vietcong on terms for withdrawing from Vietnam. Of course, the Paris Agreement negotiated by Kissinger and Le Duc Tho came only after another four years of fighting, and the final collapse of South Vietnam came in March of 1975, but it was the Tet Offensive that signaled America that its only way out of Vietnam was to negotiate a peace agreement with the Vietcong.

The Taliban don’t believe they can hold ground against the overwhelming advantages in fire power, especially air support, that the Americans can bring to bear. Instead, their attacks are designed to show that no matter how much ground the U.S. and its allies clear through large-scale operations, they Taliban will always return — and also that the Afghan security forces to which the U.S. hopes to hand over security control are no match for the more motivated insurgents. Indeed, the Taliban don’t even have to rely on surprise; their Spring offensive is an annual affair whose onset is announced to the media.