Why People Are Comparing Fall of Afghanistan With Fall of Saigon

As images surface of Afghan people crowding airports and clambering on top of planes in the hope of fleeing the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, politicians and veterans in the U.S. are joining a mounting wave of criticism calling this President Joe Biden's "Saigon moment."

Biden told reporters last month the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan would not be comparable to what occurred when the capital of South Vietnam fell to the North Vietnamese in late April 1975. But the speed with which the Taliban triggered the collapse of the Afghanistan government and the evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul has led many to draw those comparisons.

Biden announced in April his administration aimed to finish its planned U.S. troop withdrawal before the end of the summer. As the months ticked past, the Taliban expanded its reach in the country by capturing major provinces and continued to escalate its efforts through the last week.

Over the weekend, the Taliban surrounded Kabul, Afghanistan's capital city, and completed its takeover. U.S. State Department officials said people working in the U.S. Embassy were successfully evacuated to the Hamid Karzai International Airport.

Kabul Afghan people fleeing
Comparisons are being drawn between the fall of Saigon in 1975 and the fall of Afghanistan following the recent collapse of the Afghanistan government. Above, Afghan people climb atop a plane as they wait at the Kabul airport in Kabul on Monday after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan's 20-year war, as thousands of people mobbed the city's airport trying to flee the group's feared hardline brand of Islamist rule. WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images

Back in the spring of 1975, the Vietnam War was about to reach its end as the North Vietnamese approached Saigon. As the takeover of South Vietnam's capital city commenced, efforts were made to evacuate the U.S. Embassy there, with helicopters flying in to move people out.

Biden was asked last month about concerns Vietnamese veterans had regarding how the Taliban's efforts to conquer Afghanistan seemed to mirror the fall of Saigon in 1975. At the time, Biden said the Taliban was "not remotely comparable in terms of capability" to the North Vietnamese.

"There's going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of a embassy in the—of the United States from Afghanistan," Biden said during the July 8 press conference, a clip of which resurfaced in the wake of the Afghanistan government's collapse.

One veteran who was present as U.S. and Vietnamese citizens fled Saigon recently told The Military Times he believed the situation in Afghanistan is worse than the one he'd witnessed in April 1975.

During a Sunday appearance on ABC News' This Week with George Stephanopoulos, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken also pushed back on the comparisons when asked about images coming out of Afghanistan that host Jonathan Karl described as "evocative" of scenes from the fall of Saigon.

"This is manifestly not Saigon," Blinken told Karl.

Fall of Saigon 1975
House Republican Whip Steve Scalise called the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban President Joe Biden's "Saigon moment." North Vietnamese troops enter Saigon on tanks and trucks in April 1975, ending the Vietnam War. Jacques Pavlovsky/Sygma/CORBIS/Sygma via Getty Images

Republicans were also making the rounds with media outlets over the weekend to voice their opinions about the Taliban's takeover. During a Sunday appearance on CBS News' Face the Nation, House Republican Whip Steve Scalise pointed to the president's comments last month saying the situation in Afghanistan would not be like that in 1975's Saigon.

"You just had President Biden a few days ago saying you wouldn't see helicopters evacuating the embassy like Saigon. And, yet, here we are," Scalise said. "This is President Biden's Saigon moment."

As criticisms of the U.S. troop withdrawal continued in the aftermath of the Taliban's takeover, the White House announced Biden planned to address the American public Monday afternoon.

In the meantime, people who experienced the fall of Saigon themselves or who had family members who were there at the time of the city's collapse shared their memories on social media and through published essays.

As Thuan Le Elston wrote for USA Today, people who experienced the fall of Saigon were "watching Kabul in horror," noting similarities between the governments that eventually collapsed and the efforts to fly refugees and U.S. Embassy personnel out after the takeovers occurred.

Bee Nguyen, a state lawmaker in Georgia, shared some details of her family's experiences when Saigon fell in a thread posted on Twitter Sunday afternoon. While Nguyen said her family members were "lucky" in their efforts to evacuate following the North Vietnamese takeover, she acknowledged thousands of others did not survive and called upon politicians in the U.S. to help those in Afghanistan who are seeking safety.

"I pray that our Afghan allies & partners make it out alive and have the chance to rebuild their lives, the same way my family was able to. We owe it to them," Nguyen tweeted.

Newsweek reached out to the U.S. Department of State for comment and will update this article with any response.