Highlights

 
Quotable
In war, there are no winners.
Ramman Kenoun
Original Letters Blog US Casualties Contact Donate

 
October 2, 2008

War on Two Fronts, Without Railways


by William S. Lind

One way to look at the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is to see them as one war with two fronts. Germany fought two-front wars twice in the 20th century, and it was almost able to prevail because it had the advantage of interior lines. The German Army could quickly shift divisions and corps from the Eastern to the Western front or vice versa, using the superb German rail system. Unfortunately, the US lacks the advantage of interior lines in its ongoing two-front war. No railways run from Baghdad to Kabul.

US commanders in Afghanistan have reportedly requested an additional 10,000 troops. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was recently quoted in the Washington Post as telling the Senate Armed Services Committee, "I believe we will be able to meet that commanders’ requirement, but in the spring and summer of 2009…we do not have the forces to send three additional brigades to Afghanistan at this point."

The only source for additional troops for Afghanistan is Iraq. The September 2008 issue of Army magazine quotes Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen as saying, "I don’t have troops I can reach for, brigades I can reach, to send into Afghanistan until I have a reduced requirement in Iraq."

Without railways running on interior lines, we cannot move three brigades from Iraq to Afghanistan this week, then move them back to Iraq again a few weeks later if the situation there demands them. That means any shift of forces requires long-term stability in Iraq. Neocon voices in Washington are now claiming "victory" in Iraq, which, if it were true, would release American forces stationed there for redeployment. This appears to be what Secretary Gates is counting on when he says we should be able to meet commanders’ request for 10,000 more troops in Afghanistan next spring or summer.

But I fear this represents a falsely optimistic reading of the situation in Iraq. In my view, the current relative quiet in Iraq is merely a pause as the parties there regroup and reorient for the next phase of the war. Unless we have the good sense to get out of Iraq now, while the going is good, we will be stuck there when that next phase starts. We will not then be in a position to shift forces from Iraq to Afghanistan, because without interior lines, any such shift much be long-term.

While most of the stuff on the internet is junk, the junk pile does hold an occasional diamond. One such is a daily report called "NightWatch," written by a retired DIA analyst, John McCreary. As quoted in the Washington Post’s "Tom Rick’s Inbox," "NightWatch" for September 11, 2008 said that

"The US, as the most powerful faction (in Iraq), imposed power sharing on the Kurds, the Arab Sunnis and the Arab Shiites…Power sharing is deceptive because it always features reduced violence. It looks like victory, but is not….

"Power sharing can last a long time, but it is not a permanent condition and does not signify one faction’s triumph over the others. It is never an end state, but rather a transitional period during which the participants prepare for the next phase of the struggle….

"Thus, power sharing is always a prelude to violence."

If the next phase of Iraq’s civil war breaks out before spring 2009, Secretary Gates’s promise of more troops for Afghanistan will go unfulfilled. Both the Army’s and the Marine Corps’ cupboards are bare. We will in effect face enemy offensives on both fronts simultaneously, with no reserves.

Even with the advantages of interior lines and excellent railways connecting both fronts, Germany was not able to deal with such a situation from the summer of 1944 onward. Lacking those advantages, our predicament will be worse. We will find ourselves face-to-face with failure both in Iraq and Afghanistan, with few if any options. If an attack on Iran has meanwhile brought that country into the war against us, we will face a third front. Events in Pakistan could create a fourth. It is the nature of long wars that they tend to spread.

Whoever the next President is, he is likely to find himself living in interesting times.


comments on this article?
 
 
Archives

  • The Magic Potion
    2/18/2009

  • Israel Doesn't Get 4GW
    1/14/2009

  • Intervention: A Problem of Means?
    12/12/2008

  • The Other Election
    10/29/2008

  • Al-Qaeda in Iraq:
    Another Case of Failed Interventionism?
    10/21/2008

  • Pas d'Argent, Pas de Suisse
    10/9/2008

  • War on Two Fronts, Without Railways
    10/2/2008

  • Why Obama Is Wrong
    9/18/2008

  • Defending the Baltics
    9/9/2008

  • The Necessary War?
    7/3/2008

  • The Yellow Press
    6/27/2008

  • Don't Miss the Train
    6/25/2008

  • The Ancient History of Military Reform
    5/29/2008

  • A Confirming Moment
    4/18/2008

  • Operation Cassandra
    3/26/2008

  • When the Money Stops,
    Military Reform May Start
    3/12/2008

  • Linear Tactics in a Chaotic War
    3/5/2008

  • Kosovo: Fools Rush In
    2/28/2008

  • The Best Counterinsurgency: Unentangle
    2/14/2008

  • Die and Win
    2/5/2008

  • Side Effects of Our War in Afghanistan
    1/16/2008

  • Kicking the Can Down the Road
    1/10/2008

  • In the Fox’s Lair
    11/29/2007

  • No, the US Is Not Winning in Anbar
    10/11/2007

  • Truth-Tellers
    8/31/2007

  • The Petraeus Report:
    More Kabuki?
    8/22/2007

  • One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
    8/9/2007

  • America's Last Successful Mideast War
    8/3/2007

  • US Military Riding the
    Perfect (Sine) Wave
    6/13/2007

  • Flickers of Light
    3/23/2007

  • The Washington Dodgers
    3/8/2007

  • Insurgency May Be Back on Its Heels, but It's No Setback
    1/30/2007

  • Identifying Variables
    1/18/2007

  • Less Than Zero
    1/13/2007

  • Somalia: A State Restored? Not So Fast
    1/6/2007

  • Knocking Opportunity
    12/12/2006

  • More Troops?
    12/1/2006

  • Lose a War, Lose an Election
    11/14/2006

  • Third and Final Act
    10/31/2006

  • Why We Still Fight
    10/12/2006

  • The Sanctuary Delusion
    9/29/2006

  • General Puff
    9/15/2006

  • Collapse of the Flanks
    8/11/2006

  • Welcome to My Parlor
    7/29/2006

  • The Summer of 1914
    7/19/2006

  • To Be or Not To Be a State?
    7/6/2006

  • Air Strikes in Afghanistan: Aargh!
    6/20/2006

  • Fourth-Generation Hell
    6/14/2006

  • The Power of Weakness, Again
    6/8/2006

  • The Perils of Threat Inflation
    6/3/2006

  • Off With His Head!
    4/29/2006

  • Sweeping Up the Debris
    4/20/2006

  • Taking Pakistan's Temperature
    2/24/2006

  • The Long War
    2/9/2006

  • The Next Act
    2/2/2006

  • Forcing the World to Be Saved
    1/21/2006

  • Two False Options
    12/21/2005

  • Questionable Assumptions
    12/8/2005

  • It Ain't Fair
    12/1/2005

  • Engagement: An Exit Strategy
    11/5/2005

  • Condi's True Confessions
    10/28/2005

  • Important Distinctions
    9/24/2005

  • National Defense for a Republic
    8/3/2005

  • Discouraging Lessons From Imperial Spain
    7/29/2005

  • Hunting for Cops
    7/15/2005

  • William Lind is Director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation. He is a former Congressional Aide and the author
    of many books and articles on military strategy and war.

    Reproduction of material from any original Antiwar.com pages
    without written permission is strictly prohibited.
    Copyright 2003 Antiwar.com