Military Matters: LInes of retreat-2

By WILLIAM S. LIND  |  March 30, 2007 at 10:41 AM
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WASHINGTON, March 30 (UPI) -- Second of two parts.

Moqtada al-Sadr and His Shiite Mahdi Army militia would be foolish to fight U.S. forces in Iraq where they are strong, in and around Baghdad where the "surge" is focused. A far better target would be the U.S. forces' vulnerable supply lines, which again run south through the Shiites' home turf. At the least, such an attack would draw many U.S. forces away from Baghdad, relieving the pressure on Sadr City. Potentially, it could leave U.S. troops in Baghdad cut off and quickly running out of beans, bullets and POL, not to speak of bottled water. Anyone who thinks air transport could make up the difference should reference Hermann Goering and Stalingrad.

Both of these threats are sufficiently real that prudence, that old military virtue, suggests American forces in Iraq should have a plan for Operation Anabasis, a retreat north through Kurdish Iraq to Turkey. Higher headquarters are unlikely to develop such a plan, because if it leaked there would be political hell to pay in Washington. I would therefore strongly advise every American battalion and company in Iraq to have its own Operation Anabasis plan, a plan which relies only on its own resources and whatever it thinks it could scrounge locally. Do not, repeat, do not expect the Air Force to come in and pick you up.

What might such company and battalion plans entail? I asked that question of Dave Danelo, a former Marine captain who now edits U.S. Cavalry's "On Point" website. Dave was recently in Iraq with U.S. units as a journalist, so his knowledge is current. His suggestions include:

-- Have a route plan. Know where the safe areas are and why they are safe. For the Marines in Al Anbar Province, this could be Al Asad or Al Taqaddum Air Base. For soldiers in Mosul, it's Kurdistan. For troops in Baghdad, it's either of the above, or possibly Tallil Air Base in the south. For British troops in Basrah, who knows?

-- Apply the Joseph Principle. In the Bible, Joseph advised the Egyptians to store away their goods during the seven years of feast. When seven years of famine hit, they were ready. Husband large stashes of everything at the company/battalion levels: MREs, water, ammunition, and, most of all, fuel.

-- Iraqis, American contractors and oil companies have each developed parallel and redundant distribution systems that push fuel outside the U.S. military umbrella. Depending on who controls what in which neighborhood, these systems might remain intact if military supply lines are cut. Be prepared to commandeer these resources.

-- Learn the black market fuel system and exploit it. Although black market fuel is horrible on humvee engines, it will get your unit out of Baghdad and into a safe zone.

It is of course possible, perhaps probable, that American forces in Iraq may not have to repeat Xenophon's retreat of 2,400 years ago. So much the better. Many contingency plans go unused, and all that is lost thereby is some time and effort spent in planning.

But when situations suddenly arise to which no thought has been given and for which no plans have been made, the result can be trouble. When the situation is a sudden loss of an army's lines of supply and retreat, the result can be loss of an army. However unfortunate a forced American retreat from Iraq would be, a successful retreat would be far less of a defeat than the encirclement and destruction of our army. Dunkirk in 1940 was a British defeat, but it was not so serious a defeat as Yorktown in 1781.

It is time for American battalion commanders, S-3s, and company commanders in Iraq to get to know the classical Greek military historian Xenophon. His "Anabasis" is still in print and readily available. Even if, as I fervently hope, we never have to put the plans for our own "Operation Anabasis" into effect, they will still have the pleasure of meeting the first gentleman of war.

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(William S. Lind, expressing his own personal opinion, is director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation.)

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