The restaurant bombing in Kabul

I don't suppose there are many reading this who will have heard of the "My Canh Cafe" bombing in Saigon in 1965.   This was a restaurant barge floating in the Saigon River.  There were about forty killed including nine Americans.  It had been a popular place.  Like the "Taberna du Liban" in Kabul, it had been a kind of "Rick's Place" where foreigners and the local uppoer class gathered as a haven from the outer world.  The VC had set off a car bomb at an American billeting hoted the year before.  Two Americans were killed in that event.

What distinguished those two attacks in VN was that they were nearly unique events.  There may have been similar attacks in Saigon in the remaining eight years of war, but I would have to be reminded of them.  The VC seem to have decided that the toll in Vietnamese lives was counterproductive.

In my two years in the country I often went to restaurants in Saigon.  Meetings in town were usually the occasions for such luxury.  "Guillaume Tell,"  the "Admiral," "Than-Tam's" in Cholon, the "Arc en Ciel," "Mayflower" for the onion soup, and the "Pizzeria" would be a few of the names.  There were guards and locked doors, but nobody seemed worried enough about attacks to stop eating out.  The standard of cooking and service was superb.  I normally went to such establishment in uniform.

 If anyone thinks that such culinary indulgence meant that we were not serious about the war, they should remember the fifty-eight thousand names on the monument on the mall in Washington and the six hundred thousand soldiers that the NVN government admits to having lost,

The bombing in Kabul seems to me to be very different.  The communist/nationalist enemy in VN had no intention of waging war against Western civilization.  This was entirely  a political matter for them fought in the context of Marxist/Leninist control of their political movement.  Because of that control they used intensive and violent methods to control the rural population where they could.  Their agitprop teams did not hesitate to kill in order to intimidate.  Nevertheless, the war was fought to being their idea of a Vietnamese national state into existence.  They always expected that such a state would exist withing the galaxy of states made possible by the Peace of Westphalia.

The jihadi Islamists are very different.  They ARE waging a war agsainst Western civilization.  The Lebanese restaurant was seen by them as evidence of Western cultural penetration.  There will be many more such attacks.,0,2295049.story#axzz2qxWVo8ng

This entry was posted in Afghanistan. Bookmark the permalink.

48 Responses to The restaurant bombing in Kabul

  1. Max says:

    I have to challenge your basic assessment, Pat. I hold no brief for the Islamic jihadists. I consider their actions, like this bombing of the Taberna du Liban in Kabul to be wholly without morality and are therefore unsanctionable by Islam as well. But to say they ARE waging a war against Western Civilization is to speak in hyperbole. They may be waging a war to PRESERVE themselves from Western Civilization. Perhaps you argue that it is the same thing. But the two do not need to be in permanent conflict. An exaggerated assessment only becomes part of the problem rather than contributing to its amelioration. I am watching the big anti-Taliban demonstrations in Kabul as well. There is where hope exists.

  2. Highlander says:

    Just an observation from the hills, the majority of your caucasian members of correspondence, are either willfully obtuse when it comes to matters of civilzational conflict, or they are so besotted with “political correctness” they can’t even begin to acknowledge the concept.
    I remember the “My Canh”.
    Two things you could say about Vietnam, the food was damn good, and they made damn fine enemies.

  3. VietnamVet says:

    Somewhere back in the fog, I remember that a barge restaurant was blown up in Saigon. There were no roadside IED’s or suicide bombings during my one year in country; jungle rot/disease and booby traps caused most of our MedEvacs.
    There have been profound changes in the last 50 years. In the 1960’s the limits of nuclear weapons were being tested and drafted peoples armies fought in S.E. Asia killing thousands. It became clear that nuclear ICBMs had made state verses state wars impossible. Plutocrats seized Russia. “History Ended”.
    The Bush II Administration and the Obama Administration have never grasped that an Empire brings peace not war. Government is by and for the people.
    As the energy costs rise and young men can’t find jobs, the world is being immersed in Non Government Organizations (NGO) Wars. Sunni and Shiite militias, funded by oil sheiks, Mexican drug gangs, are all recipients of Western Arms. War now is a corporate profit center propelled by ethnic and religious hatreds. Suicide Bombings are the cheap counter to Drone Wars. There were never enough troops on the ground to bring peace to Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa, or Mexico.
    What is always the same are the Body Counts that don’t mean nothing.

  4. turcopolier says:

    Your hope is misplaced but it always was. You are too kindly. pl

  5. Max says:

    We will agree to disagree.

  6. Amir says:

    One should not forget that the tribe that does the bombing is not necessarily the tribe that bleeds by the bombing: The utter complacency to hold the Gulfies responsible for their action is either proof of absolute ignorance or perfidious malice and I tend to believe the latter is the case.

  7. The Virginian says:

    Ideologically I would tend to agree that the caustic mix of Deobandi – Wahhabi teachings that underpin core Taliban world views is inherently anti-Western, though I would add that it is very much focused at least present on a line of sectarian, communal and economic competition stretching through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India with significant linkages to the Gulf and beyond. Of note though is that there is potential similarity at a tactical level in that the Taliban view such attacks as undermining the will of expatriate-led humanitarian and development groups that are attempting to offer an alternative (although not always ground-truthed or realistic in planning or implementation) to the Taliban narrative. As such this is, like in Vietnam, about sowing fear and uncertainty. Moreover, the recent bombing was not the first. From 2002 – 2008 I can recall from my time in and out of Kabul several attacks on Westernized or Western-oriented restaurants, hostels, hotels and other locations in the city, although the frequency of such attacks has not been anywhere near what they could have or may yet become. Perhaps the ongoing withdrawal of NATO and US troops will see such attacks increase as security in Kabul deteriorates (the Afghans do not have the same capabilities) with the intent of ensuring the NGOs, UN, World Bank, and state donor agencies retreat further behind their walls to the point of irrelevancy (some may say they already are, to which I would respond it depends upon the organization and context specific to where a given group is implementing an activity) to the communities they are supposed to serve and where the locals will determine what side of the fence they want to come down on. Afghans are looking around and seeing a President in bed with the Hezb-e Islami of Hekmatyr (with the potential for a soft coup from within and a new period of internecine violence), an international community increasingly tired of war and rightfully counting the costs of maintaining a level of commitment that outstrips the benefits (and political will), and a Taliban that while having suffered significant attrition at the hands of NATO / Coalition attacks maintains cross-border centers of gravity still untouched by drones or other covert action that can serve as a source of renewed vigor post-2014. Not too mention the continued lure of a meager existence by selling out land and labor to Afghan and Pakistani drug barons.

  8. The Virginian says:

    One correction to my last post, it is Hezb-e Gulbuddin, not Sayyaf’s Hezb-e Islami, to which I was referring as being the soft coup threat.

  9. turcopolier says:

    “perfidious malice?” the US? No, just inept naivete. pl

  10. turcopolier says:

    The taliban are anti-western islamic fanatics and that is all there is to it. They have no other motivation. pl

  11. Nightsticker says:

    Just out of curiosity, how do you know
    which members of the SST Committee of
    Correspondents are “Caucasians”? Do you
    think it is important?
    I too remember the “My Canh”.
    One time I had a meet where the introductory parole went like this “What are you drinking?”
    “Saigon tea” “We are far from Saigon” “My
    generation is never far from Saigon”.[I am translating as the exchange was in Chinese/
    USMC 1965-1972
    FBI 1972 -1996

  12. Richard Armstrong says:

    This is an honest question and I hope that it receives honest, accurate responses free of political correctness. This question is not an attempt to excuse any actions. It’s just a question seeking a proper definition.
    Can a culture that has only risen to the level of tribalism be considered a civilization?

  13. Old Gun Pilot says:

    I was never comfortable at any of the VN cafes in country and I was convinced the monkey meat on a stick that some friends liked was really dog. Ironically,the best food was at the small officers club at the SF compound at Phu Bai. They had somehow acquired a real French trained chef. The club also had the first bumper pool table I had seen.

  14. Max says:

    They ARE anti-western Islamic fanatics, but they are more Afghan-centric in their ambitions than they are American- or Western centric. Also they are not as independent as they appear. Without the safe-havens they enjoy in the neighboring country and the financial support of wealthy donors, they would not last very long. They are an empowered movement. I agree with you that we will likely experience more attacks like we have seen the last couple of days, including the attack on our base at Zhari. They want to create a perception that we are being driven from their country, not that the US government has taken a decision to leave on our own. I actually agree with the comments of The Virginian above that the soft-coup scenario apparently being organized by HIG is the more likely direction of future developments. We will know by April or so. It that effort succeeds, we likely will see support for the Taliban drop off precipitously. Your other previous comment, “just inept naivete,” also applies.

  15. walter says:

    We are over there. We are waging war against the Islamists. You have it backwards.

  16. turcopolier says:

    We are opposing political Islam and the jihadi movements that it spawns because they are dangerous to us. I make no apology for that. pl

  17. turcopolier says:

    “they are more Afghan-centric in their ambitions than they are American- or Western centric.” You misunderstand me. I am in favor of abandoning Afghanistan to its miserable fate specifically because the Taliban are not a threat to the US. they are insignificant from our point of view. That does not make them any less Islamic fanatics. who see themselves as enemies of the West. Let them run the “country.” in that part of the world it is Pakistan that is a major potential threat. I seem to recall that you have a personal connection to Afghanistan. pl

  18. turcopolier says:

    I stayed out of monkey meat joints. pl

  19. turcopolier says:

    Richard Armstrong
    Actually, Islam abhors tribalism. The goal of Islam has always been to unite people under what is seen as God’s expressed will as to how people should live and that never includes tribalism. The high culture of Islam certainly should be thought a civilization. Do not mistake the ethnic or political behavior of peoples who happen to be Muslims of various kinds with the nature of Islam itself. pl

  20. Fred says:

    Max, in whose mind do they intend to create that perception?

  21. Marshall says:

    When driving up from My Tho to Saigon always enjoyed stopping by the “Cock and Bull” for a bite to eat (about a block down the street, across from NAVFORV). When out and about always had to have a secondary exit beside me. Usually sat near a rear exit. If I recall correctly seemed like the satchel charges were always chucked in the main entrance of places frequented by Westerners. Don’t recall ever hearing about VC sappers wearing the charges.
    May be wrong but believe the car bombing took place in front of the ‘President Hotel’? Recall the bar was up several stories. After having a drink decided to exit due to the cloud of cigarette smoke hanging in the air. Went over and waited next to the elevator for a ride down and as the door opened, people pushed forward to make it aboard. I clung to the side of the entrance and watched several people pitch forward into the abyss; the flight down to the plaza without the elevator. Went directly to the staircase and vacated the premises.
    Seems it’s the Sunni’s vice the Shia, for the most part, that take pleasure in exercising explosive martyrdom to vaporize Westerner’s and thus their cultural influence.

  22. turcopolier says:

    Richard Armstrong
    My answer was incomplete. In addition to the ethnic and political divisions that I mentioned the Muslims divide themselves into consensus groups that define for themselves the “rulebook” for Islam. Each group sees itself as the bearers of the correct Islam and others as being in error. Some of these groups are very large and others quite small. they are often quite willing to kill people outside their own group. pl

  23. turcopolier says:

    I have often eaten in the “Cock and Bull.” I particularly liked the Australian beef and the shrimp curry made with giant fresh water prawns. I Broke a hand and the Vietnamese wife of the retired navy chief who owned the place took to sitting next to me to feed me dinner. “satchel charges?” When and where? pl

  24. Richard Armstrong says:

    COL, Thank you very much for your response. I’m sorry that I didn’t make it clear that my question had nothing to do with Islam although re-reading it one could certainly think that it did.
    I really should refrain from posting from my iPhone. It tends to lead one to very short posts encompassing incomplete thoughts.

  25. John Adamson says:

    RE: Saigon Dining
    I was an EM so I didn’t patronize the ritzy places.
    What I remember fondly was buffalo burgers and 33 Beer at Tan Son Nhut airport. The gamey beef and the strong beer complimented each other.
    It’s funny what you can remember after 45 years.

  26. Amir says:

    There are 300 Milj. Americans. Only a tiny group sets out a steadfast course of action, bowing to (in case of Obama literally: ) or at least arm in arm (literally in case of Bush Jr. ) with Saudis. If one plays with the scorpion, one should not be surprised when one gets stung, is an old Persian proverb.

  27. MartinJ says:

    Islamic radical movements have a world view that Islam and their culture is under attack from the West, sure, but they are also incredibly evangelical and work hard to force their view of Islam on other Muslims. They would seek their own version of world domination and have already fixed the religious legality of how to rule over us. If we were to leave them alone it would not mean that they would leave us alone.
    Let us all argue on how to confront the threat, rather than on whether there is a threat or not.

  28. Alba Etie says:

    The Virginian
    If the Gulf States and others are actively financing the jihadist globally- from Syria to Afghanistan what end state do the Gulf States seek for these large sums of donated money ? Why is it that the West , and perhaps even the PRC & Russia ,do not collectively insist that the funding for example of al Nusra be cut off ? And specifically from what layman’s studying as I have done it seems that the Haqqani network and others could pose a direct threat to the political /economic stability in Afghanistan and the neighboring countries – which would seem not to be in the interest of either the Russians or Chinese. I have never understood why the globally funding for jihad could not be if not cut off mitigated .

  29. The Virginian says:

    Completely concur that the nuclear armed Pakistan is the real issue here, and one that Washington continues to have little ability to understand or address. The new Pakistani PM (or old – new PM) was the one during a previous tenure in the 1990s that gave succor to the Islamists for political gain even though it further led Pakistan down the path to even greater chaos, and risk to the US / West. Here I fail to see Pakistan as a partner, and more something to be contained, and would welcome the SST readership’s thoughts. Regionally, the Russians (as has Iran been since the 1980s) and apparently the Chinese are nervous over the links between Islamist groups with links back into Pakistan. Add on the Baluchi insurgency and deep mistrust with India and things are a bit grim.

  30. Harper says:

    A good friend from India who traveled to Afghanistan prior to the Soviet Christmas invasion gave me the following description of Afghanistan pre-Thirty Years War. In the 1950s, 60s and 70s, Afghanistan was a quiet, relatively prosperous country that had 60 different crops (no opium). The major US engagement was that we helped them build some hydroelectric power stations and had some agronomists travel there to work with local farmers. The King made it a point of marrying sons, daughters, nieces and nephews to Tajiks and Uzbeks as well as Pushtun, so everyone had some loose connection to the Court. Otherwise, the country was largely decentralized, out of the way and relatively peaceful. The advent of radical Islamists with an anti-Western hatred running deep is, in my view, a consequence of the nearly thirty years of uninterrupted conflict since 1979. The idea that the place is a madhouse of hatred has its own long history–every time an external power tried to impose its will on the Afghans, as Rudyard Kipling so poetically noted, it did not go well.
    Perhaps with a total US and NATO withdrawal, over time, some degree of historic “normalcy” will return. Under any circumstances, we have zero reason to stay on. The sooner we are gone, the sooner the process of some kind of sorting out will occur. I doubt that the people of Afghanistan look favorably on a return to a pure Taliban regime. There are, of course, neighbors who have a strong vested interest in regional stability, including China, Russia, Iran, India and Pakistan. It is presumptuous in the extreme, in my view, to presume that without Western presence on the ground, the place is doomed. It may take a generation of sorting out, but our decades of engagement have certainly made things a whole lot worse.

  31. turcopolier says:

    In Afghanistan “doomed” is a relative term. I would imagine that some sort of state will eventually emerge. It will be loosely tied together but the place will not amount to much. The surrounding countries will always have a good time exploiting the mineral wealth present there. Any country that has two or more mutually unintelligible languages that are mother tongues to parts of the population will really never be united. Belgium and Canada are good examples. pl

  32. Max says:

    You may not have known it, but I read your blog regularly–two or three times a week. I enjoy your choice of things to post and I normally enjoy your wry comments. I think I should have responded “like” a few times. On this occasion, something you said challenged my own perceptions, and it is not that I disagreed with you, but rather the “black and white” categorization, or hyperbole, as I called it. In general, as you know, we are in the same trench.

  33. Max says:

    My mind was harkening back to 1842 when, despite a negotiated agreement to withdraw from Kabul, the British forces were attacked along the route to Jalalabad and killed almost to the last man. When the Russians withdrew in 1979, they struck an agreement with Masoud that he would not attack them on the way out. Masoud kept the agreement and indeed protected the Russian convoy on the way out, for which many of his Afghan detractors call him a “traitor.” I agree with Pat (COL Lang) that the next few months may be very dangerous for Western foreigners living and working in Afghanistan, but as some have suggested I think it may have to do with Afghan tribal traditions than with Islam. Of course the British came back with their “Army of Vengence” and virtually destroyed the Kabul of that time. I have doubts that we will follow that precedent.

  34. b says:

    Any country that has two or more mutually unintelligible languages that are mother tongues to parts of the population will really never be united.
    Just ask the Swiss 🙂

  35. turcopolier says:

    Are they united? pl

  36. Joe100 says:

    Perhaps the US Afghanistan end-game is moving forward:
    Media reports out today that the military is recommending to Obama that “either 10,000 American troops remain in Afghanistan after the NATO combat mission ends in December or none at all (NYT, Pajhwok, TOLO News)” and “the Wall Street Journal cited senior government officials who said that all troops would be withdrawn by the end of Obama’s second term in 2017”.
    Could this be a lead up to an “everyone out this year”, regardless of what Karzai does?

  37. turcopolier says:

    I would think that 10000 would be the smallest stay behind group that could be fairly securely maintained there. Less than that would be a serious risk, a risk that could result in a disaster of the kind that Max mentioned. pl

  38. Marshall says:

    We would take a craft from Long Phu up the river to Bien Thuy to get paid (100 miles SW of Saigon). Our Det. HQ was on the VN naval base adjacent to the airbase. Would grabbed a ride to downtown Can Tho and spend the night at the International Hotel. VN employee’s told of a VC on bike sometime earlier riding by entrance of hotel and attempting to chuck a satchel charge into the hotel. Fortunately, premature detonation precluded mission success. The VC and his bike vaporized with hotel entrance sustaining minimal damage. Also working with SVN Police Special Branch (PSB) in Cai Be district (West of My Tho/Dong Tam), PSB Chief cautioned about eating in local district restaurants. VC had recently chucked a satchel in front door of one in Cai Lay, frequented by Provincial Recon Unit (PRU) members. Interesting side note: Locals had strung standing up the NVA killed in surrounding area the night before at entrance to Cai Lay. Reminded me of wiring coyotes killed to barb wire fences back home. We took the District PSB Chief’s advice and did not stop to eat down there. Instead, we drove back to My Tho and ate at a Chinese restaurant along the quay wall where river and canal intersected. Can’t remember the name. Always had the crab and asparagus soup. It was in a cream sauce and delicious. Very enjoyable times. After such enlightenments, became second nature to focus on the entrance of places visited and VN coming and going. Time frame 1970-71.

  39. Highlander says:

    let’s take you for instance. Jarhead Officer(Vietnam era) and member of the secret police from the same era. Odds are about 95% you are a proverbial “white boy”. Today that would be down to about 60%.
    You however,probably aren’t hesitant about acknowledging,discussing or entering into conflict when necessary.
    Is it important? It is of less importance by the day. Where will it all lead? Probably to August9, 378 “AD”.

  40. Alba Etie says:

    Martin J
    Has the current administration made best use of soft power when confronting the Islamic radical movements? Could an improving relationship with Shia Persia offer some diplomatic overtures opportunities to counter the Deobandi Wahhabi narrative in SW Asia ? ( the Virginian mentioned the Deobandi Islam influence with the Taleban earlier in this thread ) . A nuclear armed Pakistan with a Deobandi Wahhabi government would be very concerning to all nations . I seem to recall that Khaled Shiekh Muhammad the mastermind of the 911 attacks was a Baluchi was originally from Pakistan , and was Deobandi Wahhabi. Finally any thoughts on how the Islamist Erdogan government fits into this discussion about confronting radical Islamist globally. I seem to recall that Turkey has had a pretty ambitious footprint in Somalia – And as sidebar why did Turkey buy a Chinese ABM system .

  41. turcopolier says:

    I had friendlier VC it seems. I used to eat in noodle shops all over the country. the village barber shop that I patronized never had anyone in it but me and the Vietnamese. A little kid came in one day with a toy gun and started going “bang bang” at me. The barber put down his razor and shooed the boy out. that was in Song Be in Phuoc Long Province. There was a mess at the CORDS team but I seldom ate there. the opposition had the nasty habit of shelling the CORDS compound at meal times. I had some Chinese guards and they cooked for me and my local men using excess A rations given me by the 1st Cav Division. The supply system pushed rations “forward” relentlessly and the cav had so many troops in the field that rations piled up. So, my Chinese cooked Cantonese with all that great canned ham, eggs, produce, etc. Then the Americans and Chinese would sit around in the back yard on upturned buckets eating from rice bowls with sticks. The good life. pl

  42. nightsticker says:

    Had to look up the date.
    Then just for fun I broke out
    my copy of “The Day of the Barbarians”
    by Alessandro Barbero.
    I wonder if we will have another 1000
    years after our Adrianople.
    USMC 1965-1972
    FBI 1972-1996

  43. steve g says:

    It’s been a while. I see you
    haven’t lost your ascerbic wit.
    Googled your reference. The
    Battle of Andrianople was a step
    in the downfall of the Roman
    Empire as I understood it. The
    hubris of the Emperor Valens the
    key as he apparently thought
    the Goths were not up to the fight
    and failed to wait for his re-
    enforcements or listen to his
    generals whichever.
    Might our parallel slide into
    obscurity have begun with financial
    miscalculations instead of battle-
    field mistakes? The elites of this
    era have followed the same misreading
    of events, imperial overreach, as
    the Romans IMO. We have bankrupted
    ourselves and are still trying to
    control events we no longer have the
    capability to influence. Will our
    collapse go forward at an exponential
    pace or simple wimper and gasp.

  44. David Habakkuk says:

    Nightsticker, Highlander,
    I have not read Barbero’s book about the battle of Adrianople. However, I do know his brilliant book about the battle of Waterloo. And it reinforced my long-standing view that Samuel Huntingdon’s ‘clash of civilisations’ theory was largely piffle.
    You may remember the famous statement of Wellington, when in the late afternoon it looked as though his whole position might crumble – ‘night or the Prussians must come.’ And the the Prussians came. Although they were beaten back in the brutal fighting over Placenoit, Napoleon had to split the guard. So when it was finally thrown into the battle, there weren’t enough of them.
    In the struggle against Napoleon, as in the two great conflicts of the twentieth century, among the principal allies of the British were the Russians – the most culturally alien of the major European peoples to us. Our great twentieth century conflicts were against the Germans – probably culturally closer to us than any other of the major European peoples.

  45. Neil Richardson says:

    Mr. Habakkuk:
    Huntington’s thesis has very little to do with reality in Asia for obvious reasons. The “Sinic” civilization might be embroiled a number of internecine conflicts as all one has to do is look at Vietnam, South Korea and China as well as the PI.

  46. Highlander says:

    I use to think maybe our Adrianople moment would possibly be 3 aircraft carriers taken down in an hour or so in saturation attacks with hypersonic cruise missiles, and anti carrier ICBMS.
    But you maybe on to something. The battle may have already been fought and lost in the computers of Wall Street,The City of London, Frankfurt,Hong Kong, and Tokyo. I do know the economic world in existence since 1946 no longer exists. What if anything has replaced it, I have no idea about.
    As a side, I am just a poor hillbilly, but a couple of the neighbors are billionaires. They both told me their “Darth Vader” investment banker types gave them a “heads up” in 2006 on the coming economic collapse, and how to profit from it.
    I don’t believe the big money(not the 1%, but the top 1/10 of a percent) could give a rats ass about their own civilization or anybody else’s. The greedy bastards just want all the bucks. And we are too pussy to stop them.

  47. Fred says:

    I’m aware of both the history and the risk Pat mentioned.

  48. Fred says:

    Those billionaires sound just the like the Senators of the later Roman Empire who busied themselves on their estates and left the work of the running (and protecting) the Imperial society to freedman bureaucrats , legionaries on the border and whatever Emperor was foolish enough to fight for the purple. To put it simply they were the first barbarians – they used laws and money – the other kind brought the swords.

Comments are closed.