Operation Anabasis


While dilettantes believe the attack is the most difficult military art, most soldiers know better. Carrying out a successful retreat is usually far harder.

One of history’s most successful retreats, and certainly its most famous, is the "Retreat of the 10,000." In 401 B.C., 10,000 Greek hoplites hired themselves out as mercenaries to a Persian prince, Cyrus the Younger, who was making a grab for the Peacock Throne. Inconveniently, after the Greeks were deep in Persia, Cyrus was killed. The hoplites’ leader, Xenophon, the first gentleman of war, led his men on an epic retreat through Kurdish country to the coast and home. Surprisingly, most of them made it. Safely back in Athens, Xenophon wrote up his army’s story, cleverly titling it the Anabasis, which means the advance. It was not the last retreat so labelled.

If the above scenario sounds familiar, it should. America now has an army, not of 10,000 but of more than 140,000, deep in Persia (which effectively includes Shiite Iraq, despite the ethnic difference). We are propping up a shaky local regime in a civil war. Our local allies are of dubious loyalty, and the surrounding population is not friendly. Our lines of communication, supply and retreat all run south, to Kuwait, through Shiite militia country. They then extend on through the Persian Gulf, which is called that for a reason. If those lines are cut, many of our troops have only one way out, the same way Xenophon took, up through Kurdish country and Asia Minor (now Turkey) to the coast.

What is the chance that could happen? Higher than anyone in Washington or the senior military seems to think. Two events, separately or combined, pose a credible threat of severing our forces lines of communication. The first is an American or Israeli attack on Iran (Iran has publicly announced that it will respond to an Israeli attack as if the U.S. were also involved). Iran potentially could cut our supply lines by encouraging Iraqi Shiite militias to attack them, by infiltration into southern Iraq of the Revolutionary Guards, by attacking with the regular Iranian Army or by blocking the Persian Gulf with mines, coastal batteries and naval forces. Regarding the first option, a British journalist asked Mr. al-Hakim, leader of SCIRI and the Badr Brigades and a recent White House guest, what his militia would do if America attacked Iran. "Then," he replied, "we would do our duty."

A second possible threat is a move to cut our lines of communication by the Shiite militias in response to events inside Iraq. At the moment, the Shiites are avoiding confrontations with American troops, not because they are afraid of them but because they are practicing good operational art. Their objective is to have the Americans fight the Sunnis for them. So long as we are doing that, it makes no sense to get into a dust-up with us.

However, loud voices in Washington want American forces in Iraq to start a two-front war, attacking the Shiite militias as well as the Sunni insurgents, on the grounds that both are threats to our puppet Iraqi government. Should those voices prevail, the Shiites would at some point have to respond, with Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Militia probably in the lead. They would be foolish to fight us where we are strong, in and around Baghdad where the "surge" is focused. A far better target would be our vulnerable supply lines, which again run south through the Shiites’ home turf. At the least, such an attack would draw many of our forces away from Baghdad, relieving the pressure on Sadr City. Potentially, it could leave our 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:

o 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?

o 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.

o 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.

o 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. 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 was a British defeat, but it was not so serious a defeat as Yorktown.

It is time for American battalion commanders, S-3s, and company commanders in Iraq to get to know 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.

WILLIAM S. LIND, expressing his own personal opinion, is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation.


Weekend Edition
October 9-11, 2015
David Price – Roberto J. González
The Use and Abuse of Culture (and Children): The Human Terrain System’s Rationalization of Pedophilia in Afghanistan
Mike Whitney
Putin’s “Endgame” in Syria
Jason Hribal
The Tilikum Effect and the Downfall of SeaWorld
Paul Street
Hope in Abandonment: Cuba, Detroit, and Earth-Scientific Socialism
Gary Leupp
The Six Most Disastrous Interventions of the 21st Century
Andrew Levine
In Syria, Obama is Playing a Losing Game
Louis Proyect
The End of Academic Freedom in America: the Case of Steven Salaita
Rob Urie
Democrats, Neoliberalism and the TPP
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
The Bully Recalibrates: U.S. Signals Policy Shift in Syria
Brian Cloughley
Hospital Slaughter and the US/NATO Propaganda Machine
John Walsh
For Vietnam: Artemisinin From China, Agent Orange From America
John Wight
No Moral High Ground for the West on Syria
Robert Fantina
Canadian Universities vs. Israeli Apartheid
Conn Hallinan
Portugal: Europe’s Left Batting 1000
John Feffer
Mouths Wide Shut: Obama’s War on Whistleblowers
Paul Craig Roberts
The Impulsiveness of US Power
Ron Jacobs
The Murderer as American Hero
Alex Nunns
“A Movement Looking for a Home”: the Meaning of Jeremy Corbyn
Philippe Marlière
Class Struggle at Air France
Binoy Kampmark
Waiting in Vain for Moderation: Syria, Russia and Washington’s Problem
Paul Edwards
Empire of Disaster
Xanthe Hall
Nuclear Madness: NATO’s WMD ‘Sharing’ Must End
Margaret Knapke
These Salvadoran Women Went to Prison for Suffering Miscarriages
Uri Avnery
Abbas: the Leader Without Glory
Halima Hatimy
#BlackLivesMatter: Black Liberation or Black Liberal Distraction?
Michael Brenner
Kissinger Revisited
Cesar Chelala
The Perverse Rise of Killer Robots
Halyna Mokrushyna
On Ukraine’s ‘Incorrect’ Past
Jason Cone
Even Wars Have Rules: a Fact Sheet on the Bombing of Kunduz Hospital
Walter Brasch
Mass Murders are Good for Business
William Hadfield
Sophistry Rising: the Refugee Debate in Germany
Christopher Brauchli
Why the NRA Profits From Mass Shootings
Hadi Kobaysi
How The US Uses (Takfiri) Extremists
Pete Dolack
There is Still Time to Defeat the Trans-Pacific Partnership
Marc Norton
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution
Andre Vltchek
Stop Millions of Western Immigrants!
David Rosen
If Donald Dump Was President
Dave Lindorff
America’s Latest War Crime
Ann Garrison
Sankarist Spirit Resurges in Burkina Faso
Franklin Lamb
Official Investigation Needed After Afghan Hospital Bombing
Linn Washington Jr.
Wrongs In Wine-Land
Ronald Bleier
Am I Drinking Enough Water? Sneezing’s A Clue
Charles R. Larson
Prelude to the Spanish Civil War: Eduard Mendoza’s “An Englishman in Madrid”
David Yearsley
Papal Pop and Circumstance
October 08, 2015
Michael Horton
Why is the US Aiding and Enabling Saudi Arabia’s Genocidal War in Yemen?