Brussels: The Afghan Army will not collapse when international troops end their combat role, in the way that South Vietnam`s did in the 1970s, NATO`s top officer said on Thursday.
Italian Admiral Giampaolo Di Paola said the international community intends to remain committed to Afghanistan after NATO forces hand over responsibility to the Afghan security forces in 2014.
"About 60 countries are engaged in the broader effort," Di Paola told reporters. "It is not just a bilateral or trilateral effort, as it was (in Vietnam)."
"The United Nations, the World Bank, many non-governmental organisations are all there," he said. "That is the fundamental difference."
The US-led military coalition in Afghanistan numbers more than 140,000 troops — two-thirds of them Americans. The allies hope to have trained a total of 306,000 Afghan Army and police by the end of this year. They face an estimated 25,000 insurgents.
The Obama administration expects to start drawing down its forces in Afghanistan in July, when the first of the country`s 34 provinces will be turned over to Afghan control. NATO`s combat role will end in 2014, but some support units will remain in the country to help the Afghan security forces in case of need.
"The way the Afghan security forces are being trained is much better than in 1975," said Di Paola, who heads NATO`s Military Committee — the alliance`s highest military body.
On Thursday, during a conference of the chiefs of military staffs of NATO`s 28 nations and their allies, he said "the overwhelming conclusion was that we are on the right track, that overall we are moving forward" toward the goal set for 2014.
In South Vietnam, US and allied troops pulled out in 1973, after almost a decade of war. Two years later, the South`s Army — which the Americans and French before them had trained for almost 30 years — collapsed within a matter of weeks during a communist offensive.
Some historians say the two wars are fundamentally similar. They have drawn parallels between Afghanistan`s deeply flawed elections, and the failed effort in Vietnam to legitimise a military regime lacking broad popular support through an imposed Presidential Election in 1967.
In August 2009, President Barack Obama`s then-envoy to Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke and the top US and NATO commander there, General Stanley McChrystal, contacted a key Vietnam historian to discuss what to do in Afghanistan.
The historian, Stanley Karnow, told them the main lesson of Vietnam was that "we shouldn`t have been there in the first place”.