It has now been eight and a half years since coalition forces led by the U.S. launched air strikes against the Taliban, starting the war in Afghanistan. That, according to Diane Sawyer in ABC Online, gives the conflict a "fresh and dubious distinction" — it has surpassed the length of the Vietnam War to become the longest war in U.S. history. Can that really be true?
Have we really been fighting in Afghanistan longer than in Vietnam?
The start of the Afghanistan conflict can be pinpointed very precisely — the shooting began on Oct. 7, 2001, just over 104 months ago. By Sawyer's reckoning, the Vietnam War lasted only 103 months, from August 1964, when the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was passed, to March 1973, sixty days after the signing of the Paris Peace Accords. But others dispute this timeline.
The start date of the Vietnam War is a gray area. The Pentagon lists American deaths in Vietnam from November 1955, when the first military advisors started working in the Southeast Asian country. Even if you exclude those early days, dating the war to the Tonkin Gulf incident "simply isn't right," says Richard Holbrooke, U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, who also served as a diplomat in Vietnam. Look at the Vietnam War Memorial, he says. "The first names are from 1961, if I'm not mistaken. And the last are after 1973."
What about all the other wars in American history?
Many of the Indian Wars lasted decades, says Don Surber in the Charleston, W.V., Daily Mail. The Second Seminole War lasted from 1835 until 1842, and the Sioux Wars lasted from 1854 to 1890. "The reason the length of this war is raised," says Surber, "is to label it Vietnam and dump it." But the differences between the two conflicts are "stunning." For one thing, just over 1,000 Americans have been killed in Afghanistan — our fatalities in Vietnam were "58 times as great." Also, he says, in the case of Afghanistan our enemy struck first.