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HomePrag DiariesOperation Babylift: Horrors of Saigon evacuation echoes Kabul's catastrophic chaos

Operation Babylift: Horrors of Saigon evacuation echoes Kabul’s catastrophic chaos

Kabul: Ruffled pages of history have yet again opened up the harsh memories of the past where countries have fallen prey to the horrors of warfare.

A tempting comparison between the withdrawals of US forces from Kabul in 2021 and Saigon in 1975 has offered diminishing returns over the past few days. Yet again, memories of the tragedy that struck ‘Operation Babylift’ have drawn comparison to the lingering catastrophe in Afghanistan that is and will affect the coming generations

The chaos and desperation that has prevailed and continues to remain, reprises the frantic Saigon rescue effort of 1975.

Scenes of screaming babies, wailing mothers, anguish led Afghan nationals, waiting to be airlifted- all brought back memories of the ill-fated 1975 ‘Operation Babylift’ of Saigon. A tragedy that will remain fresh on the page of history.

One image shown over and over was especially gut-wrenching — a baby being passed to a Marine over a barbed-wire lined wall in Kabul airport.

These images and videos of Afghan nationals handing over their kids to the US soldiers over the barbed wire brought back memories of images embedded in our minds — of mothers handing babies to strangers in Saigon, Vietnam.

The Vietnam War was a complex and costly conflict between communist North Vietnam and Western-backed South Vietnam meant to determine the future of the nation after Japan’s withdrawal following World War II. However, it quickly escalated on a global scale as a proxy war between the Soviet Union and the anti-communist United States, who believed in the “domino theory” that suggested one country.
Whereas about 7,000 people were evacuated from Vietnam (5,500 Vietnamese civilians and about 1,500 Americans), more than 95,000 people have left Afghanistan in a historic airlift since 14 August, the day before the capital fell to the Taliban.
The first sanctioned mission was Operation Babylift, an effort to transport thousands of babies and young children out of Vietnam on dozens of flights.

“I ordered American officials in Saigon to cut through any red tape that might stand in the way of the children’s escape,” Ford later wrote in his presidential memoir. “Then I told our Air Force to begin those mercy flights as soon as possible. Everyone suffers in a war, but no one suffers more than the children, and the airlift was the least that we could do.”

‘OperationOperation Babylift was the name given to the mass evacuation of children from South Vietnam to the United States and other countries (including Australia, France, West Germany, and Canada) at the end of the Vietnam War in April 3–26, 1975. By the final American flight out of South Vietnam, over 3,300 infants and children had been evacuated, although the actual number has been variously reported. Along with Operation New Life, over 110,000 refugees were evacuated from South Vietnam at the end of the Vietnam War. Thousands of children were airlifted from Vietnam and adopted by families around the world.

The operation though faced a big tragedy. The flight was involved in evacuating the children, crashed. More than 130 people were killed in the crash, including 78 children. The incident was, at first, a huge embarrassment for Ford. But more than 3,000 orphans were eventually evacuated, and Ford met some when they arrived in San Francisco.

The images that the world is witnessing now of Afghanistan and that took place in Vietnam in 1975 during the Fall of Saigon, perplexes the human consciousness, not to forget some serious questions projecting the huge losses faced by the children and their impending dark future. It’s almost like, history is repeating itself, with mass evacuation taking place in Afghanistan and kids are being passed on to the soldiers via the international border so as to escape the Taliban’s wrath.

Looks of desperation, airplanes full of people, with people hanging on them, parents passing off their toddlers to the marines as Taliban sweep through the valley, bringing their old regime back to the fore.

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