Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Back of Beyond

One of the more obvious unasked questions implicit in all those "adult" proposals to empty Iraq of forces and shift them to Afghanistan is how they would be supplied. Afghanistan is landlocked and, apart from the highly limited airlift mode, requires cooperation from neighboring countries to ship in supplies. In particular, Afghanistan is bordered to the east and southeast by Pakistan, the west by Iran, and to the north by Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikstan. The nearest ocean is 275 due south.

Today, the American Forces Press Service reported that contingency plans are being prepared to supply coalition forces in Afghanistan if Pakistan is lost.



Nov. 14, 2007 – The U.S. military is examining different contingencies for supplying American troops in Afghanistan if supplies can no longer be shipped through Pakistan, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said today.

Morrell said at a Pentagon news conference that the supply line issue “is a very real area of concern for our commanders in Afghanistan, because 75 percent of all of our supplies for our troops in Afghanistan flow either through or over Pakistan.” This includes about 40 percent of the fuel shipped to U.S. forces, which comes directly from Pakistani refineries. No ammunition goes through Pakistan, the press secretary said.

The center of gravity of the Afghan/Pakistani theater (which should conceptually be regarded as a single, complex battlefield) is now in Pakistan. The basic strategic dilemma of this theater is that a) US forces cannot directly attack the enemy center of gravity in Pakistan. They can only fight it indirectly from Afghanistan; but b) any reinforcement of Afghanistan enlarges the forces that have to be supplied through Pakistan. That in turn means more forces will be cut off if Pakistan is lost. Basically America is fighting an enemy which is in its logistical rear without really being able to fight it.

The obvious strategic choices that are open to the US are: a) to enlarge the battlefield to include the direct military occupation of Pakistan; b) to limit operations in Afghanistan to forces which can be realistically supplied in the event of Pakistan's loss. My guess is that the Option B is the only realistically available option. This means that Afghanistan will only ever be a holding action. It will never become the decisive area of operations. That dubious honor is reserved for Pakistan, where the battle against al-Qaeda will have to be prosecuted by indirect means. This implies a greater covert, diplomatic and advisory effort in an unstable country which possess nuclear weapons.

Victory in this theater will require developing new unconventional warfighting capabilities. If anything, it will be harder to do than the campaign in Iraq. Al-Qaeda in Pakistan has become similar to an inoperable cancer and it may be helpful to address it in those terms.

Such cancers are treated with non-invasive therapies such as drugs which disrupt the metabolic pathways of the cancer cells or alter their DNA into self-destructive patterns. Although al-Qaeda cells are present in Pakistani sanctuaries, their roots go back to the Middle East, whence they receive funding and theological support. In this regard, the recent defeats al-Qaeda has suffered in Iraq may have done much to weaken its legitimacy in its own backyard. But the blow inflicted in Iraq is unlikely to be fatal.

Many more centers of metastasis, with which al-Qaeda interacts, are present in Western Europe, Central Asia and the subcontinent. Recently, Gordon Brown announced plans to create a "Fortress Britain" to try and reduce the malignancy of their Muslim ghettoes. Although I have my doubts about how effective that strategy will be it seems clear that the radical Islamic threat is so widely distributed now that the application of direct military action must be subordinated to a far wider plan of action.

26 Comments:

Blogger Jerry said...

i believe you have a typo in your post. Iraq is not landlocked.

11/14/2007 04:49:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

Jerry,

Thanks. Have fixed.

11/14/2007 04:58:00 PM  
Blogger Smitten Eagle said...

One of my critiques of the Iraq campaign is that it has resulted in a heavier Army and Marine Corps that is more, not less, dependent on its logsitical tail.

Don't believe me? Look how the HMMWV, which up until OIF II was, at best, a jeep replacement that might be used to carry some TOW missiles and perhaps a few troops.

We "upgraded" the HMMWV way beyond it's realistic capabilities, and still found it inadequate. Now were experimenting with MRAPs, which, at the end of the day, are just trucks, which happen to be much heavier than even the heaviest up-armored HMMWV.

All of these vehicles require huge trains of logistics to maintain. Think vast supply dumps full of spare parts, lubricants, soldiers dedicated to rebuilding damaged vehicles, security for the dumps, Burger King, Pizza Hut, and maybe even the Hooters girls & Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders to entertain the troops. (I've seen all of this first hand). Ever heard of the term "Self-Licking Ice Cream Cone?"

No...the future of Afghanistan is not necessarely fewer forces...it's lighter forces. Lets continue the revival of the foot patrol. Lets lighten the packs, drop the excess body armor, and just bring a field-stripped MRE or three, a crapload of ammo, and water. Rely more on organic supporting arms and aviation. Rely less on armored vehicles, which tend to restrict troops to roads and therefore make the troops movements predictable, and therefore vulnerable to IED attack.

Live off the land and local economy. Buy bread and lamb. Learn how to cook them. That is the future.

Great power once had the ability to do such things. We might figure out how to do those things, too.

Wretchard, you are right if you suggest that such a transformation may be difficult. It will requires us Americans to ignore a great strength of ours (logistics) so we can develop an even better strength. It's not unlike isolating a muscle group in weightlifting.

11/14/2007 04:58:00 PM  
Blogger Cannoneer No. 4 said...

Karimov and Putin are laughing their asses off now. I'm surprised OEF lasted this long after losing K2 and access to the European rail system.

The road from Karachi to Spin Boldak is the jugular vein.

Evacuation by air if Pak airspace is denied will be a lot hairier than people who have never seen BAF and KAF might think. Condi is going to have to kiss some serious Turkmen ass and be real nice to the Azeris and Georgians and Romanians and Bulgarians.

If the Turkmens won't deal we have a serious problem that living off the land and going light won't solve. The caveat troops will likely throw themselves on the mercy of the Uzbeks and Russians. What will the Americans, Canadians, British, Romanians and Dutch do? It's a long walk to Karachi. Longer than Chosin Reservoir was from Hungnam.

11/14/2007 06:24:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

I seem to recall a lot of proposals calling for the redeployment of large numbers of troops to Afghanistan. To "get Osama bin Laden", though he's probably in Pakistan. Obama even suggested that Pakistan be raided unilaterally to "get" high value targets. I remember expressing doubt about whether a large force could be logistically supported in Afghanistan. I recall some other pundit, looking at the map, observing that any large scale attack would have to come from the sea or some other place where supplies could be landed in bulk. That seems like common sense.

Now come to think of it it would be hard to open up on the country through which the logistical train must pass. I wonder how well these proposals to "get Osama" were thought through. But don't worry, we've got a "secret plan" to get the Pakistani nukes if things go bad. The Washington Post tells us so. What that might do to the supply line is another story.

11/14/2007 06:48:00 PM  
Blogger trish said...

"But don't worry, we've got a "secret plan" to get the Pakistani nukes if things go bad."

How would you ever know, unless "things" went bad?

You wouldn't.

Nor should you.

11/14/2007 08:31:00 PM  
Blogger trish said...

"I wonder how well these proposals to "get Osama" were thought through."

Well, for heaven's sake, why put it in quotation marks?

11/14/2007 08:43:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

I found the relevant policy proposal at Obama's site:

As President, I would deploy at least two additional brigades to Afghanistan to re-enforce our counter-terrorism operations and support NATO’s efforts against the Taliban. As we step up our commitment, our European friends must do the same, and without the burdensome restrictions that have hampered NATO’s efforts. We must also put more of an Afghan face on security by improving the training and equipping of the Afghan Army and Police, and including Afghan soldiers in U.S. and NATO operations. ...

I understand that President Musharraf has his own challenges. But let me make this clear. There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al Qaeda leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will.


With respect to the "secret plan", no doubt there is one and probably more than one. But policies interact. It's fair to observe that a Obama's proposal might constrain the implementation of those secret plans. They may even imply a practical veto of them. Only those who have seen the plans themselves can judge.

11/14/2007 09:29:00 PM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

OF course we can "get Osama" AND fight in Afghanistan. We just have to be willing to nuke Pakistan liberally.

Personally, I'd rather not IF it can be avoided. But that's just me.

11/14/2007 09:35:00 PM  
Blogger trish said...

"If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will."

Wretchard, this is our policy. (Ours and Musharraf's.) Has been for five years. Obama isn't promising anything new.

11/14/2007 09:38:00 PM  
Blogger trish said...

Or threatening it.

11/14/2007 09:42:00 PM  
Blogger Nomenklatura said...

Each step in the war has consequences which may not be apparent from a distance, and some of them can turn out very favorably.

If Gordon Brown goes ahead with his 'Fortress Britain' proposals then machine guns and uniforms will be even more visible on British streets than they are today, and many more people will be stopped and searched. The result will be a wholly desirable heightening of awareness across the general population that we are involved in a war, and a new desire to get on with it, and win it.

It will also become starkly obvious to the Muslim population in the UK that the country is beginning a broad mobilization, backed up by a determination to defend itself. Don't believe for a moment that this will not make many young UK Muslim hotheads, the ones contemplating rather than engaged in violent adventures, pause to reconsider - it will. Britain's recent abject weakness and 'multicultural' enthusiasm for pre-emptive surrender have been giving them encouragement, but everyone in the UK knows the country successfully resisted the IRA's bombing campaign for decades.

These are very useful developments indeed. Gordon Brown could not have been more helpful if he had committed a whole division to the Middle East.

11/14/2007 10:03:00 PM  
Blogger trish said...

But why the quotation marks around a serious, ongoing effort?

11/14/2007 10:13:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

"If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will."

Wretchard, this is our policy. (Ours and Musharraf's.) Has been for five years. Obama isn't promising anything new.


I don't want to be cute, just to understand what's being said. Is it US and Musharraf's policy that if Musharraf won't act then we will? That would basically imply that Musharraf will say one thing publicly and another thing privately; as in denounce the intervention publicly and grin inwardly.

Why the quotation marks? Because I personally think (and it's just my opinion) that "get Osama" is not a strategy. It might be the effect of strategy and would be good to happen, but it never be an end in itself. This goes right to the question of whether 9/11 was a crime or an act of war. An investigation ends when the perpetrator is caught. If Osama is caught or killed, then it's over. But if 9/11 was an act of war, then Osama's capture or death won't end it. That's why I put quotation marks around the words.

11/14/2007 10:19:00 PM  
Blogger trish said...

"Is it US and Musharraf's policy that if Musharraf won't act then we will? That would basically imply that Musharraf will say one thing publicly and another thing privately; as in denounce the intervention publicly and grin inwardly."

I'm not sure about the grin. I'm sure about all else.

11/14/2007 10:22:00 PM  
Blogger trish said...

Osama's death won't end it.

But it matters. To us.

11/14/2007 10:27:00 PM  
Blogger Alexis said...

Nice...

Our troops in Afghanistan become hostage to the question of Kosovo.

America's logistical tail certainly does explain the timing of the September 11 attacks. Al-Qaeda probably assumed that lingering resentment from the Kosovo War would block American access from the north and they probably assumed they had Pakistan in their pocket. Hence, they had reasonable reason to think they would get away with giving the United States a big thank you present on September 11 for fighting Islam's battles during the previous decade.

11/15/2007 05:27:00 AM  
Blogger Stargazera5 said...

Wretchard said: The obvious strategic choices that are open to the US are: a) to enlarge the battlefield to include the direct military occupation of Pakistan;

There is an alternative version of option a that we've already been considering: to enlarge the battlefield to include the direct military occupation of Iran. There is little question that the current cost-benefit-risk profile to doing this is not worthwhile. That may well change if we have to force open supply lines to our troops in Afghanistan.

Frankly, I would probably support this option before I would support an invasion of Pakistan as the potential pay-off is far greater while the risk profile is similar.

StargazerA5

11/15/2007 06:01:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

U.S. Is Looking Past Musharraf in Case He Falls
Bush administration officials are losing faith that the Pakistani president can survive in office and have begun discussing what might come next.
---
Interview With Gen. Pervez Musharraf (Nov. 13) (mp3)
---
Military role is his power source

Musharraf's rule would be shaky if he relinquishes his army position, experts say.

11/15/2007 06:37:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Aunt Benazir's false promises
ht-AlBob

11/15/2007 03:38:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

So we could perform a Berlin airlift for three years from 1948 through 1951, flying daily over some mighty mean, pissed off and humiliated Russians, and now that we're technically more proficient, bigger, faster and smarter, we can't perform the same kind of supplying airlift into Afghanistan, where all we have to duck are some smallish stationary mountains and even smaller dumb suicidal terrorists that are MAYBE being protected by some dated Russian MiGs sold to Pakistan and Iran?

Pshaw!!! If we can't at least match Ike and the Greatest Generation's heroics then we are a generation of Baby Busters.

11/15/2007 04:25:00 PM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

NahnCee --

The Berlin Airlift brought food and water, that was it, to Berlin on a temporary basis. It did not and could not bring fuel, ammo, heavy weapons, mechanized vehicle parts, vehicles, and other stuff a fighting army in the field needs. Goering tried and failed at Stalingrad. Armies are so heavy that they cannot be supplied from the air. Moreover it is likely that we will lose Incirlik air base soon to Islamist pressure in Turkey. From where will we supply Afghanistan? Moscow?

The obvious short cut of course, is simply nuke the troublesome parts of Pakistan and let the rest sort themselves out. As an object lesson to Iran (i.e. nukes won't save you but make you a nuclear target the second you become a credible threat) the policy has much to recommend it, particularly if America feels desperate and threatened.

A repeat of China Gordon in the Sudan at Khartoum is not the same given post-9/11 fears of a nuke in DC and NYC. So Pakistan operates with less of a leash than it thinks. Threatened and desperate people will do all sorts of things to survive.

11/15/2007 04:41:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

1. How did we get all that heavy stuff into Kuwait and Saudi Arabia in Gulf I? By sea?

2. How did we get all that heavy stuff into Iraq in Gulf 2 when Turkey wouldn't let us in? Everything went in through the south by ocean and Basra? Nothing was flown in?

3. I'm remembering pictures of big honking airplanes unloading big honking loads of stuff. Including tanks. Why is that not possible also going into Pakistan.

4. You're saying that India wouldn't gladly give us airspace if it would cause distress to their mortal enemy, Pakistan?

Not that I'm against nuking Musharref and his pet scientist Khan and all the little Taliban. It just seems to me that it should be do-able if we put our minds to it.

11/15/2007 06:00:00 PM  
Blogger Cannoneer No. 4 said...

Rhein-Main - Tempelhof:
232 Nautical Miles
267 Statute Miles
430 Kilometers

Tbilisi, Georgia -- Kabul, Afghanistan, as the crow flies:
1412 miles (2272 km) (1227 nautical miles)

By December 31st of 1948 the 100,000th airlift mission was flown since it's beginning on the 26th of June. By years end nearly 750,000 tons of supplies had been airlifted into Berlin.

Between 26 June 1948 and 30 September 1949, the airlift delivered more than 2.3 million tons of cargo, approximately 75 percent of it in American aircraft. American aircrews made more than 189,000 flights, totaling nearly 600,000 flying hours and exceeding 92 million miles.

Yes, by sea. The 173rd ABN BDE was flown in from Italy. Some tanks were airlifted in later.

Indian airspace won't get us to Afghanistan.

11/16/2007 12:13:00 AM  
Blogger Tanker said...

Nahncee,

"1. How did we get all that heavy stuff into Kuwait and Saudi Arabia in Gulf I? By sea?"

Yes. The troops of the heavy divisions were flown in and then went to the docks to unload their equipment when it arrived by ship. The 82nd Airborne had light tanks that were air-deployable, but they were retired after Desert Storm.

"2. How did we get all that heavy stuff into Iraq in Gulf 2 when Turkey wouldn't let us in? Everything went in through the south by ocean and Basra? Nothing was flown in?"

Pretty much. That was the 4th ID, which was already on ships. They would have had to land somewhere to transfer to planes. Note that our largest cargo aircraft, the C-5 Galaxy, can carry exactly one M1 Abarams tank. And nothing else. It can carry several lighter vehicles like Bradleys or Strykers at a time. There are about 600 tanks and Bradleys in a heavy division, plus hundreds of other vehicles of all sizes. One ship can carry 10s or 100s of vehicles (I don't know how many, but many more than a plane). Only light forces are completely air deployable. That's just the vehicles. They use millions of gallons of fuel and lubricants, and the troops use many tons of food and ammo. Per day. All the planes in the world wouldn't be enough.

11/16/2007 01:52:00 AM  
Blogger BrianFH said...

Stargazer;
Yeah, that's how it's shaping up, isn't it? Weird to think that Iran may be more "solvable" than Pakistan ...

12/22/2007 09:13:00 AM  

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