Recent U.S. and allied military activities in Afghanistan were called “Retrograde Operations”. At this writing, I am not sure who named these military activities which had their plan to end before midnight on August 31, 2021. According to press reports, the U.S. and friendly militaries met that deadline – barely.
I found myself thinking back to my time at Infantry School, Fort Benning, GA at the Infantry Officer’s Basic Course. Granted, it was quite a few years ago. Granted further that Viet Nam was just beginning to heat up. Granted still further that we have supposedly learned a lot since that unfortunate war, and that the U.S. mistakes in that war would not be repeated, if we could help it.
To introduce the retrograde program to officers at those classes at Fort Benning, our instructor (an active duty Infantry officer – whose name I don’t recall) opened with some humor. This, I remember exactly as he said it. “Retrograde” is from the two Greek words, “Retros” and “Gradius” meaning “haul ass”. So, we chuckled and proceeded to learn just what these types of operations were, presumably, under battlefield conditions.
As I understood then (and I can even recall the course now) you would be under fire from the enemy – and would engage in these operations for the purpose of giving up space to buy time. This may take the form of delay. withdrawal or disengagement. Basically, according to my recollection of Infantry School, you had to be prepared to fight your way to the rear. Retrograde operations were part of combat. They might be necessary for a time, but not forever. Even withdrawal means getting ready ON THE BATTLEFIELD for a new mission.
As we young officers were told, quite seriously, the U.S. Army never retreats; rather, it might have to engage in retrograde operations to be able to fight again.
History is full of battles where sometime, it became necessary to actually leave the battlefield – and leave it fast (“haul ass”). Didn’t we have to do that in Viet Nam? And didn’t it work out there, eventually (at a cost of tens of thousands of U.S. and millions of Vietnamese lives and much financial treasure).
It is hard for me to see the Afghanistan experience as a retrograde operation. Maybe we should just be honest to ourselves and the rest of the world and call it what it was – a Retreat. Many people have called it a Surrender. I will not go that far now. Time will tell. Maybe it will turn out to be a retrograde operation which would bring us back into Afghanistan. And maybe, history will see it as the good and right thing at the time and treat President Biden – more kindly than people seem to feel now.