On April 29, 1975, as North Vietnamese rockets rained down on the Saigon airport, American forces had no choice but to execute Option IV as the last resort, the mass evacuation by helicopter of American personnel, their Vietnamese employees and relatives. In an 18-hour operation, a fleet of choppers lifted thousands of desperate and panicky people from the United States embassy to aircraft carriers offshore. However, many more were stranded and left to their fate outside the embassy. “Mobs of hysterical Vietnamese [were] clamouring to be evacuated,” wrote Stanley Karnow in Vietnam: A History . “Thousands surged toward the take-off spots, screaming to be saved.” Almost half a century later, American forces would again beat an ignominious retreat, this time from a country well-known throughout history as “the graveyard of empires”. Americans never learned the larger history, but they did seem to have taken a lesson from that fateful late April day. Having served for almost two decades in Afghanistan as the epicentre of America’s war to defeat the Taliban and destroy al-Qaeda, US forces slipped away from Bagram Airfield, 25km north of the capital, Kabul, under the cover of night. To avoid attention and trouble, they didn’t even tell the base’s Afghan commander. According to news reports, Afghan soldiers patrolling the perimeter only knew the Americans had left quietly when “the electricity was shut down and the base was plunged into darkness”. At its peak, the compound, the size of a small city, had as many as 100,000 US troops. The greatest military might in history didn’t even warn about its imminent departure from the airfield to its closest native ally on whose behalf it was supposed to have been fighting. Instead, it left like a thief in the night. Reportedly, 3.5 million pieces of equipment, all itemised, were left behind. Among those were thousands of civilian cars, many without ignition keys, and hundreds of armoured vehicles, as well as small weapons and ammunition. Perhaps they can benefit America’s Afghan friends, if they don’t fall into the hands of the Taliban, who are almost certain to overrun the country, just like the North Vietnamese did. Karnow began his history of Vietnam with a quote from Tacitus, the Roman historian: “They made a wasteland and called it peace.” As others take up the task of writing the history of Afghanistan under the shadow of 9/11, the same quote would be entirely appropriate.