Jane asked me to post this up on FDL because Joe Wilson will be there around 2 PM EDT to discuss a fighting retreat from Iraq.
Historical analogies are imprecise thing, at best. This isn't 1842 or 1940, 1944 or 1950. Every battle, every war, is different, and they end differently. So by looking back at Dien Bieh Phu or Mang Yang Pass or Chosin, we are not saying this is what will happen.
But history also repeats, and those thing which have happened, can happen again.
Now, you may have heard of the Chosin Resevoir in connection with the war in Iraq, but aren't clear about what it means. In November 1950, the US Army X Corps was attacking near the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. On the evening ot the 27th elements of the Chinese Fourth Route Army crashed into US lines and sent them retreating. During the retreat, US forces had to fend off several attacks on their lines, with road blocks and massive human wave attacks.
Here is the Wikipedia entry on the battle:
Around 30,000 UN troops clashed with approximately 70,000 Chinese soldiers. In fierce fighting that lasted until 11 December, there were 15,000 UN casualties (7,500 to cold related injuries) and possibly 40,000 Chinese casualties (mostly to cold related injuries) as the UN forces withdrew to Hungnam.
On the eastern side of the Chosin Reservoir however, a 3,000-man composite U.S. Army task force from the 7th Infantry Division, RCT 31 ( Task Force Faith), was isolated by two reinforced Chinese divisions (over 17,000) which were en route to finish off the garrison at Hagaru-ri. Worn down by incessant attacks, RCT 31 was virtually destroyed. Nine members of RCT 31 were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army's second highest award for valor. Survivors from this unit reached Marine lines at Hagaru-ri on December 2, 1950. Some survivors of RCT 31 and other army units including an army tank company and combat engineers, joined Smith's forces and participated in the breakout. Keeping his units concentrated and moving deliberately, Smith made an aggressive assault to break out of the reservoir. When asked if the Marines were retreating, Smith explained that their fighting withdrawal through Chinese lines did not constitute a retreat. His explanation was abbreviated into the famous misquote, "Retreat, hell! We're attacking in a different direction!" (recalling the famous quote from Captain Lloyd Williams at Belleau Wood during the First World War, "Retreat, hell! We just got here!").
Task Force Drysdale
In mid-November 1950, the roughly 300 men of 41 Independent Commando, Royal Marines Battalion, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Douglas B. Drysdale, were attached to the U.S. 1st Marine Division. This marked the second time that U.S. Marines and Royal Marines had served together. (The first time was during the Boxer Rebellion.)
41 Commando had been at Koto-ri with Colonel Chesty Puller's 1st Marine Regiment when the Chinese attacked. On the morning of November 29, Major General O.P. Smith, Commanding General of the 1st Marine Division, ordered Puller to send a task force to open up the road between Koto-ri and Hagaru-ri, where the majority of the division was. The breakthrough force was composed of Drysdale's 41 Royal Commando, Captain Carl Sitter's G Company, 3rd Battalion 1st Marines (G/3/1), B Company, 31st Infantry Regiment, and various Headquarters and Services Marines. All totaled, the task force was around 900 men and 140 vehicles.
The task force struck out of Koto-ri at 0930 hours on November 29 and by 1630 hours, had advanced only half way to its objective, due to stiff enemy resistance—halfway to Hagaru-ri the Chinese ambushed the task force and cut it to pieces. The units of the Task Force had become bogged down, separated and were not in radio contact in an area later named "Hell Fire Valley" by Lieutenant Colonel Drysdale. After being reinforced by tanks from D Company, 1st Tank Battalion, Drysdale contacted Smith at Hagaru-ri and was told to "Press on at all costs." Drysdale responded by stating, "Very well, then: we'll give them a show." He passed word that they were going to run the gauntlet to Hagaru-ri.
Later that evening, most of the men from 41 Commando, Sitter's Marines, and the tanks from D Company arrived at Hagaru-ri, with a wounded Drysdale entering the division command post to announce "41 Commando present for duty." In the confusion along the road, roughly 400 members of Task Force Drysdale were still left stranded and out of radio contact in Hell Fire Valley and completely surrounded by vastly numerically superior Chinese forces. For his leadership and valor, Captain Sitter was awarded the Medal of Honor, one of eleven Chosin Marines so honored.
The still-stranded forces were composed of about 60 Royal Marines, most of B Company 31st Infantry Regiment, and the assorted Headquarters and Services Marines, strung out in four pockets along roughly two-thirds of a mile. Most of these men were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. A few were able to pass through Chinese lines and make it back to Koto-ri. During the night, army Lieutenant Alfred J. Anderson of B Company, 1/31 Infantry, regrouped those of his company that he could find into a defensive perimeter. Twice, he closed with enemy soldiers and killed them at arm's length, deflecting their weapons with one arm as he used his pistol. Early on the morning of November 30, Anderson received orders to withdraw those troops under his control. He led them back safely to Koto-ri.
Of the 900 men of Task Force Drysdale, approximately 300 arrived at Hagaru-ri, 300 were killed or wounded and about 135 were taken prisoner, with the rest making it back to Koto-ri. Seventy-five of the 141 vehicles were also destroyed. Some considered the mission poorly conceived and doomed from the start. Major General Smith was not so quick to write it off however, saying that it was at least a partial success because it delivered over 300 seasoned infantrymen and a tank company to the beleaguered defenses at Hagaru-ri. 
Final phases of the battle
In their withdrawal, US troops were either attacking—conducting numerous assaults to clear Chinese roadblocks and overlooking hill positions—or under furious Chinese attack themselves. The sub-zero temperatures inflicted even more casualties than the Chinese (who also suffered greatly from the extreme cold). US forces enjoyed total air supremacy, with Navy, Marine, and Air Force fighter-bombers flying hundreds of sorties a day against the encircling Chinese. Over 4,000 wounded were flown out and 500 replacements flown in during the operation, contributing considerably to its success. The Marines and soldiers were able to destroy or effectively disable all seven Chinese divisions that tried to block their escape from the reservoir. Despite the effort of many Marines, whose plight attracted world-wide attention and was seized on by the western media as a "moral victory" in the midst of defeat, the strategic situation was now highly unfavorable for UN forces and it was decided to withdraw the entire X Corps from North Korea. The Marines, the rest of X Corps, and thousands of civilian refugees were soon evacuated by ship from the port of Hungnam, which was then destroyed to deny its use to the communists.
When people use this analogy in terms of Iraq, what they mean is that the US will have to engage in a rolling battle south from Baghdad, with Iraqis mining and sniping and occassionally attacking US forces. Now, when I first mentioned this possibility three years ago:
Thursday, October 16, 2003
Failure is an option
The degree of control and violence is different, but all three mean the end of US control of Iraq. There are too many guns and RPGs and too few employed people for the US to\nsurvive any mass uprising without killing thousands of Iraqis in street massacres. There is no center, no Iraqi figure with enough respect to aid the US and those that are respected want the US gone.
Someone said unless there is a miracle in Iraq, Bush is in trouble. The real issue will be how great will the coming disaster be. Will we run like the Chosin Reservoir, walk away like Suez or have some kind of mad\ncollapse like Vietnam. We won't be in Iraq for years. We haven't got enough troops to enforce our will. The only reason we're still there is the patience of the Shia and that will end, oh, starting next with with the start of Ramadan.
And again in 2004:
What he's talking about is a repeat of the Chinese intervention of 1950, a scenario I have raised for months. He uses Syracuse, but the spectre he's creating is one of Chosin.
(On the night of November) 28, 6 Chinese divisions attacked the 1st Marines in the area of the Chosin Reservoir. However hard the Marines might fight, they were outnumbered 6-1 or more. The Chinese attacked both at the head of the American lines and 35 miles behind. The Marines thus were forced to fight their way southward and towards the coast. The Marines first fought their way to Hawkawoo-ri, at the south end of the reservoir. Casualties were very heavy, but the battle did not end there. The troops then had to fight their way south. (Marine Gen.) Smith stated: "Gentlemen, we are not retreating, we are merely attacking in another direction." It took the Marines 13 days of heavy fighting to reach the coast. There. they and tens of thousands of North Korean civilians were evacuated to the coast.
I worry less about a destruction of the US Army than a brutal fighting retreat to Kuwait and Turkey. The scale of the disaster would dwarf Chosin because of the loss of billions of modern equipment. The policy defeat would be catastrophic as well. The Europeans clearly would be the dominant power in the Middle East for at least a decade.
So this hasn't been a new concern of mine. But the issue is not so much the Iraqi forces we might face, but the ability to move US equipment outside the country, Much of it would have to be abandoned in place or along the way to distract the guerrillas. If you look at the map of Chosin, you'll note that it is steep mountains and narrow valleys. Iraq is a very different place, far more open, but in the end, we have a long way to go and very little cover.
One of the things Americans have to get over is their belief in American superiority. An American army can be decimated in a retreat, even by an enemy without airpower. The problem for the US Army in any retreat from Iraq will be the thousands of Iraqis who will want to flee with them and the thousands of POG's people other than grunts, who will be in that convoy. They might not do so well when they're attacked. Looking at the roads of Iraq, there are only a few routes south, and they can be blocked and fought over. Which makes leaving in a fighting retreat difficult.