Tuesday, March 23, 2004
The Greek historian Xenophon wrote his most famous work, The Anabasis in exile after having favored the Kingdom of Sparta with his military services. Xenophon's history, also known as "The March Up Country", was the story of the legendary Ten Thousand. These Greek mercenaries had given their services to Cyrus the Younger. Unfortunately, the wrong horse lost the battle of Cunaxa (401 B.C.) and the Ten Thousand were left with the choice of surrender to the Persians or to fight their way out of Asia Minor to Greece.
They chose to fight. Their story is legend. It became the basis for Xenophon's recollections of strangers in a strange land, fighting their way home.
A little over 2400 years later, the political descendants of the Greek mercenaries had returned to the Asian mainland. This time, some 150,000 men of the United States Army and Marine Corps had been sent to the Fertile Crescent to destroy a tyrannical regime and disarm it of any chemical or biological weapons it might have on hand.
To get to Baghdad, they had to march up country.
The town of an Nasiriyah has a bridge that is a major artery across the Euphrates river. To advance up both sides of the Euphrates, the bridge had to be secured. For the bridge to be secured, an Nasiriyah had to be taken whole.
After the war, Saddam's papers revealed that he never believed that the Allies would invade. However, it does appear that he had plans to use his irregular troops, the Fedayeen Saddam, to harass the U.S. supply train in the event diplomacy failed. The first application of this delaying strategy was at an Nasiriyah.
By the night of the 22nd, the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division had invested enough of an Nasiriyah to be confident that they could bypass the town. Elements of the 3/7 Cavalry had already penetrated 150 miles into the heart of Southern Iraq. Everyone appeared confident that the Iraqis were falling apart like a house of cards. What they didn't know was that Saddam's people had sent a substantial force of Fedayeen to harass the Americans and contest them for the control of bridgehead at an Nasiryah. The following day, elements of a maitenance company out of Fort Bliss, Texas, the 507th, were ambushed after having lost their way in the middle of the town. Five of the members of the 507th were taken prisoner, while seven were missing and presumed killed in action. The setback at an Nasiriyah was not strategically significant, but the theater commanders understood that an Nasiriyah had to be cleared to secure a bridgehead over the Euphrates. The Marines were chosen to clear the city.
In two days of bitter fighting, the Marines cleared the town. Fedayeen would be sent in to reinforce in Japanese pickup trucks with machine guns mounted on the roof. The Marines would soon take to calling them "Technicals", in memory of the Somali gangsters who drove around Mogadishu in like fashion, demanding tribute from local citizens. While Marines would clear and advance block by block, technicals would attempt to drive into the city. More often as not, they would run into the business end of a Bradley or a Marine rifle platoon. Fedayeen casualties were reported at the time to have been extremely heavy.
But at the end of the 26th, the bridgehead had been secured. The march up country could continue.