An old (and true) military aphorism: Amateurs study battles and tactics. Professionals study logistics.
In Iraq, the United States Armed Forces enjoy an incredibly favorable logistical situation. Despite the presence of potentially hostile forces in Iran, the Persian Gulf is an American-dominated body of water, and supplies can be easily offloaded either in Kuwait or Basra. The Gulf States offer convenient, friendly sites for forward basing of supplies and troops prior to entering the active theater. In the north, we have limited but critically important access through Turkey (which is why we keep ignoring Turkish abuses of the Kurds within their borders).
Moreover, we have the decided advantage of having already done this in the early 1990s.
Once supplies are in Iraq, we benefit from a decent road net, and--outside the Kurdish highlands and the urban areas--relatively open terrain amenable to close air support.
What people don't realize when they hear the statistic that the Iraq war is costing $10 Billion/month is that--in purely military terms, and if you take out all the rebuilding expenses--it's actually a fairly cheap war--wars being expensive operations.
A lot of my liberal and progressive friends suggested throughout the campaign that Barack Obama's intended withdrawal from Iraq would produce an Iraq dividend in terms of lessened expenses, even if we sent 20,000 extra troops to Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, most of my liberal and progressive friends (good people all) don't really understand squat about military operations.
Forgetting for the moment that President-elect Obama is not going to get out of Iraq as quickly or easily as he'd like, let's talk about the difficulty of making war in land-locked Afghanistan.
Land-locked means either overground or air transport, which is inherently more expensive and less dependable than sea transport.
Two-thirds of Afghanistan's border (virtuallly everything except the northern border) is covered by either Iran or Pakistan. OK, we're obviously not shipping anything through or over Iran. Nor is the idea depending on shipping supplies into Karachi and then overland to Kandahar too inviting, given the deteriorating political situation in that country. That's what we really want, right? To be shipping troops and ammunition through Pakistan while the Pakis and the Indians go to war over the bombing in Mumbai?
But that's what we're currently doing.
So what's the alternative? The northern border of Afghanistan matches up to the former Soviet republics of Tajikstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. How do you get there from here? You have to transport the supplies via rail (get ready for it) ... through Vlad Putin's Russia for hundreds of miles of poorly maintained track.
All of this means is that, pound for pound, every bullet, rocket, helmet, MRE, or barrel of fuel sent forward into Afghanistan costs three to four times as much to deliver as it would into Iraq.
Do the really rough math. There are about 67,000 US and NATO troops in Afghanistan, which are scheduled to nearly double over the next year. [Yes, Obama and the SecDef talk about 20,000 troops, but that's combat troops. They come with support units and new thousands of troops necessary outside of Afghanistan to ship the supplies in.]
So let's see ... 140,000 troops in Iraq were costing us $10 Billion/month. 120,000 troops in Afghanistant will end up costing us ... nearly twice that.
And just to make matter worse, the Taliban may not like dancing, but it seems they can add. Enemy attacks in Afghanistan (and even southern Pakistan) have shifted from our forward bases to (you guessed it) ... our supply lines.
Here's Zofeen Ephraim at Anti-war.com:
KARACHI - While NATO and United States forces have downplayed raids in Peshawar by pro-Taliban militants, destroying hundreds of their military vehicles and supply containers destined for Afghanistan, analysts here believe that the damage is significant.
On Saturday the militants destroyed 11 trucks and 13 containers in the latest of a series of attacks over the past week designed to disrupt supply lines to NATO and U.S. troops fighting the "war on terror" in Afghanistan
Saturday's raid defied increased security for some 13 supply terminals around Peshawar, ordered after a major raid last weekend in which hundreds of trucks and containers were torched....
In March, insurgents torched 40-50 NATO oil tankers near Torkham. In April, a military helicopter valued at $13 million was hijacked. And in July, there were sporadic attacks on the convoys. Last month, some 60 Taliban fighters hijacked a convoy of trucks in broad daylight as it was traveling through the Khyber pass....
In last week's attack on the Port World terminal, the security guards on duty watched helplessly as around 300 militants blasted their way into two transport terminals and torched vehicles.
"These included APC jeeps, trucks, lifters, and fire brigades," said Jan. "They came through the main gate, which they destroyed using a rocket-propelled grenade, and set fire to 106 vehicles, including 80-90 Humvees. They also shot dead one of the guards."
Here's the grim reality for Barack Obama in the first months of his Presidency, while trying to figure a way out of the economic melt-down: the Defense Budget is going to go up. Big time.
You have to wonder how that will play with the folks who put him in office, or my liberal/progressive friends who planned to finance universal health care by cutting the defense budget.
Sometimes it sucks to be President-elect.