Pulling Out…Without Giving Up

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Yuri Kozyrev/ Noor for Time

Paratroopers from Bull Battery, 4-319 Airborne Field Artillery Battalion, carry machine guns from their combat vehicles after completing a patrol in Logar province.

LOGAR PROVINCE — Throughout history, one of the most difficult maneuvers to pull off in combat has been the fighting withdrawal. It’s an aspect of war that plagued battlefield commanders from Napoleon to Lee to Bradley. Getting into a fight is easy; getting out usually presents a challenge and particular dangers.

Every infantryman and combat soldier knows the concept of breaking contact. It is a battle drill practiced over and over: one part of the unit fights on while the other part pulls back, and in a carefully coordinated (though often chaotic) leapfrog, the soldiers extract themselves from harm’s way.

That’s how it has worked historically, at least, when armies met in uniforms on actual fields. After nearly every such battle, one could usually declare a winner and a loser. But today’s asymmetrical wars are messy, and for some time now, the U.S. mission in Afghanistan has shifted from a counterinsurgency fight to a partnership, preparing Afghan forces for when American troops go home.

Full dispatch here.